NOTE: There may be a small spoiler in my paragraph about Max. It’s about something we find out during the book, and not at the beginning, so you may want to skip that paragraph if you’ve not read the book.
Lola Nolan is an eccentric costume designer who loves to stand out with her outrageous outfits and colourful wigs. But she’s also a seventeen-year-old girl. Lola’s parents—Nathan and Andy—disapprove of her rock star boyfriend. Max is mercilessly grilled by them during weekly brunches and his moody demeanour does not help to placate them. The only thing Lola wishes for is 1) her parents to accept Max and 2) to attend the school dance in her fantastical homemade Marie Antoinette outfit. That is, until the Bell twins return home. Cricket Bell is the boy next door and someone who Lola is not going to be able to ignore. Lola and the Boy Next Door is the companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss.
I think the success of YA contemporary rests on the two main characters being likeable, and I adored everything about Cricket Bell. I love that he respected Lola, and in a real way, not just superficially. I love that he’s intelligent, passionate, quiet, and a little bit shy. I think it would’ve been fantastic to have a dual narrative because I really wanted to find out what was going on inside his head. We find out less about him than we did with Étienne. The cute little things he did for Lola meant I couldn’t help but smile. I related to Lola a lot less than I did with Anna. She’s possibly the opposite to me in every way, but I did find her fascinating.
Lola and the Boy Next Door takes place in San Francisco, which reminded me very much of Brighton, England. I couldn’t stop singing ‘San Francisco’ by Vanessa Carlton in my head whilst reading the book. It sounds like a very safe, warm place to be. I envied that Lola could take her dog on midnight strolls. The location plays a part in Lola and Cricket’s relationship as much as Paris did in Anna, but in a much more subtle way.
There were two things in particular that unfortunately I didn’t enjoy about the novel. My main concern was the insinuation that Max at 22 is so much older than Cricket Bell at 18 (e.g. Cricket is a boy, Max is a man). They could’ve easily been at university together yet the characters acted like Max was so old that he couldn’t possibly be interested in things teenage enjoy; he’s too busy being a man, hanging out in burlesque clubs, drinking, and sleeping around. Max is bad for Lola because he’s a loser, not because he’s 22. The comments about how ‘old’ Max was made me feel ashamed to be reading a YA novel at 23. And I don’t want to feel that way. I realise that this perhaps needlessly resonated with me more than it did with others, and after all, Stephanie Perkins is not a teenager herself, but it really did make me feel uncomfortable.
I was also originally pleased to see Anna and Étienne in the story. I had assumed that they appeared in the book much later—towards the end—rather than showing up throughout the story. But it didn’t really feel like they were the same characters. I had thought previously that they were both interesting, independent characters yet they sort of blurred into one. However, this may be because we’re seeing them through Lola’s perspective and she could be focusing on that fact that they’re clearly a very happy ‘couple’. I also just found out that Stephanie Perkins wrote Lola first, so that also could be why.
I actually extremely enjoyed Lola and the Boy Next Door and I hope it comes across that way. I’d like to make it clear that the above criticisms are only minor parts of the novel, but I wanted to talk about them as they did have an impact on my enjoyment of the story.
Lola and the Boy Next Door is a quirky, colourful novel full of outgoing characters that come alive on the page, set among the calm backdrop of a quiet neighbourhood in San Francisco that plays host to yet another complicated but completely addictive romance.