The Plot: Seventeen year old Dolores “Lola” Nolan has a pretty good life. Her two dads, Nathan and Andy, are super supportive even if they are over protective and a bit stricter than other people’s parents. Lola has a terrific best friend, Lindsey; a hot, rocker boyfriend, Max; a job she likes; and a passion — clothes and costume design — that she wears everyday.
Then HE moves back in next door. Cricket, the boy next door. Who broke her heart years ago and moved away. Now she has to see him every day. Lola begins to reluctantly acknowledge that she still may have feelings for Cricket. What about her boyfriend, Max? What about her future plans?
The Good: Lola and the Boy Next Door is another terrific teen romance from Stephanie Perkins. It’s a companion to Anna and the French Kiss; more about that later. And, just to be clear, as the title promises, the romance is between Lola and her next door neighbor, Cricket.
Lola’s boyfriend at the start of the book is Max, and Max is an appealing boyfriend on paper. Look a little deeper, though, and something seems off. What I love is how Perkins, who tells this from Lola’s perspective, has the reader come to the realization along with Lola that Max is not all that and a bag of chips. This is not a book where from the first page I wanted to say, “Lola, what are you thinking?” Yes, Max is older, 22. Yes, he’s the musician to her high school student. But, it shows Max going along with all the rules her parents have put in place because of the age difference, including a weekly Sunday Brunch. It’s only as time goes by that the reader — and Lola — discovers that Max isn’t happy about that, not at all.
I know some people may be thinking “triangle! cheating!” As with Anna and the French Kiss, Perkins handles this aspect very gracefully and respectfully, and I won’t reveal all. Lola and the Boy Next Door addresses some complex emotions: having feelings for two different people; trying to sort out what one really feels versus what one wants to feels; and learning how to read a situation. (All I’ll say is one good lesson to learn: if your best friend doesn’t get along with your boyfriend, take that seriously and don’t dismiss it.)
Because of Lola’s anger from what happened a few years back, and because of her current boyfriend, Max, Lola and Cricket’s relationship progresses slowly. A friendship is discovered, or, rather, rediscovered, and here, also, the contrast between Cricket and Max is made apparent slowly. Another lesson to learn: not a good sign if your boyfriend doesn’t want to hang out with any of your friends.are
In addition to the fun, sometimes flirty, often awkward, but ultimately hopeful and healthy relationship that develops between Lola and Cricket, the strength of this book is the supporting cast of characters. Anna and St. Clair appear, and they are just the type of couple you’d hope they’d be.
Cricket is as fashion-aware as Lola is (did I mention that Lola’s mantra is “I don’t believe in fashion, I believe in costume“?) Lola doesn’t just read fashion magazines and buy clothes; she makes her own clothes. I’m not a fashion person, but I adored the descriptions of Lola’s clothes and how she basically wore her heart, her mind, her soul on her sleeve. Whether whimsical or depressed, her outside reflects her character.
Cricket’s sister, Calliope, is an Olympic level figure skater, and that’s not just some throwaway make her interesting tidbit. The practice, expense, and dedication that level of athletic training requires of the whole family is shown; and yes, it ends up tying back to Lola herself.
Lola’s family is complicated. Not because she has two dads. Lola references their strictness, and it’s clear they don’t like Max but also don’t want to do anything that pushes Lola away and pushes her towards Max. They are supporting and loving. What is complicated is that her biological mother is the sister of one of her father’s.
As with Paris in Anna, place matters: here, it is San Francisco. Instead of someone discovering a city, it’s about a girl whose city is her place, who knows that city better than she knows herself. And given what Lola needs to realize about herself, Max, and Cricket, that’s quite true.