The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Yellow Feathers in her Hair and a Dress Cut Down to There (review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins)

Lola and the Boy Next Door (Anna and the French Kiss, #2)
Lola and The Boy Next Door
Stephanie Perkins
Dutton Books 2011

Lola is living a life of high costume drama in San Francisco.  She spends her time festooned in fabulous creations of her own design, attending school, working in her local cinema and hanging out with her two dads.  Oh, and having a relationship with 22 year old Max who may or may not be OK (or possibly even TOO OK) with the fact that she’s only seventeen – it’s hard to tell.  Despite the complications of dating an older man, not least her fathers’ ardent disapproval, life isn’t at all bad.  Not, that is, until erstwhile neighbours The Bells return to the house next door.  More specifically to Lola, the Bell twins return – one of whom is her nemesis, the other the source of her deepest hurt.  With Lola at the helm, channeling her own special brand of crazy, things are about to get interesting.

Lola is delightful.  She’s kind of like a little Zooey Deschanel, zipping about San Fran, being disarmingly kooky – but without the annoying smugness that is Zooey Deschanel. While she’s hard not to like, she’s far from perfect.  Her relationship with Max seems to embody with the kind of blinkered selfishness that can sometimes be engendered by first love.  To the point that at one point the abandons St Clair (yes, that St. Clair) in a club – it’s THAT BAD. And her selfishness isn’t the only thing that’s blinkered – Lola is generally pretty good and not seeing anything she doesn’t want to see and at hiding the things she wishes others to not see either.  However, as her story progresses, she forces herself to see things as they really are – including herself.  It might take her a while, but her character develops rather beautifully and, even when her decisions might make you cringe, she’s rarely anything other than entirely lovable.

The insanely (and delightfully unexplained) monickered Cricket and Calliope Bell are instantly intriguing what with Lola hinting at some hurtful backstory before they even appear on the scene.  Calliope is a fairly brittle character, a driven competitor who doesn't have much in her life other than her skating and her brother.  Her interactions with Lola are often unpleasant, but Calliope is an oddly sympathetic character, particularly when seen through the eyes of Cricket.  Cricket himself is rather excellent.  He's no St. Clair (who could be?) but he's exceptionally charming in a bumbling genius sort of way that will have readers rooting for him from the minute he appears in all his long legged quirkiness.  The friendship between him and Lola is believable only, sometimes, due to his exceptional patience and understanding.  She's a lucky girl.  

Elsewhere, the story is peppered with well written and interesting characters.  Max, Lola's much older boyfriend isn't exactly a prince.  Dating a girl five years his junior (and a teenager to his early twenties) often seems a bit icky but he does seem to care for her, in his own conflicted should-i-be-dating-this-child way.  His doubtfulness at her honesty at first seems unfair but is increasingly justified as it becomes clear that Lola really does seem to spend more time hiding things from him than telling the truth.  Lola's dads have to be a story highlight. They are interesting characters in their own right but really, I just got excited because it reminded me of that sitcom My Two Dads.  And yes, I'm aware that that very statement ages me.

The story running through Lola and the Boy Next Door is a classic coming of age one.  Lola grows before our eyes, makes mistakes, recognises those mistakes and adjusts her life view accordingly.  The romance aspect is just as pleasing as the one seen in Anna and the French Kiss but in many ways this story is more about the girl than the boy and is extremely well told.  It's in turns funny, moving and thrilling and anyone who loved Perkin's debut outing is surely going to fall in love with this.  The third in the series (although they all work perfectly as standalone titles so far), Isla and the Happily Ever After is out this year and Lola and the Boy Next Door has some tantalising hints as to how all of Stephanie Perkins' engaging characters might actually manage to appear in the same story.  I, for one, can't wait.  Perkins writes the kind of clever, touching stories that are full to the brim with romance and friendship and that will always have me coming back for more.  Perfect escapism of the best kind, Lola and The Boy Next Door comes highly recommended from The Mountains of Instead.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird.  Both Lola and The Boy Next Door and Anna and the French Kiss (review here) are available now.  Treat yourself and pick up copies of both.


Melissa said…
For the record: I loved your title for this one. (And I can't wait for Isla and the Happily Ever After. I adore Stephanie Perkins.)
Unknown said…
Fantastic review - you have me drooling over it :)
Emma, you HAVE to read it. It's utterly charming!
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