Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next Door is a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss. I got AatFK last year when Amazon promoted it for free on Kindle and loved the hell out of it. But I have a serious weakness for YA lit. So when LatBND came in from the library I just about squealed.

Blurb from author's website because the review is a little long-winded:

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit - more sparkly, more fun, more wild - the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.
When Cricket - a gifted inventor - steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Lola's adopted and I love that her family is not a traditional mom-dad-kid family. Her dads aren't written as stereotypical gay men, voguing and shrieking FABULOUS at the top of their lungs (if that's you, that's awesome, but it's not everybody). They have a loving, stable relationship and they are very (very) protective of Lola. They aren't presented as Other but just as a regular family, like it's nothing remarkable (because it shouldn't be treated as if it were). Realistic portrayals of non-traditional family units are important.

I also love that Lola is in  charge of her own sexuality/desire*. She's having sex with her boyfriend and although she doesn't love sex yet, she's confident it will be pretty awesome with practice (because she's researched it, FTW!). It's refreshing to see depictions of teen sex (the sex itself is off-page) that are neither glamorizing nor demonizing nor shaming. Lola is having the sex and her best friend isn't but neither one is judging the other. Also, Cricket is inexperienced and no one judges him about that either. The one thing that I would have liked to see addressed was protection, both for STI's and pregnancy. It is never referred to by anyone in the book and Lola never thinks about it, which I find both weird and a little off-putting (especially considering her family history; if you read the book you'll know what I mean). I think the reader is meant to assume that at least condoms are being used, but in a book for/about teens, it's an important topic to S-P-E-L-L O-U-T. (For what it's worth, I don't like to read adult romances, especially contemporaries, where safe-sex practices aren't at least being discussed by the people sexing it up. It's irresponsible not to include that stuff in the story.)

Despite all of that goodness, I didn't always love Lola (I did seriously lust after her clothes though). She's sometimes selfish and immature but since she's 17 and she does grow up a bit as the book progresses, it's cool. I'd rather a protagonist with some flaws than a Mary Sue. Overall, I think the writing and the story itself and Cricket, because if I were still teen-aged, swoon, were enough to overcome my occasional objections. But if I'm going to be perfectly honest, I may be judging a little harshly because Cricket sounds so great.
As a whole, this book covers a lot of difficult topics that tend to make adults scream "Won't someone think of the children!?!?" like infidelity, teen sex, some drug use, homosexuality, etc., etc., but for the most part I think it does a pretty good job of being honest and forthright without being preachy (unlike this review). And it also doesn't overwhelm with the Very Important Subjects.

Should you read this? Yep, you should. Especially if you like romantic YA. Also read Anna and the French Kiss. 

Buy It . Borrow It . Skip It

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Series: Unnamed trilogy
Previous book in series: Anna and the French Kiss
Next book in series: Isla and the Happily Ever After (forthcoming)
P.O.V.: First person, present; single narrator
Language: Pretty clean with a couple of dingers
Sexxxoring: Off page

*ETA: Regarding sexual agency, the way I framed that makes it sound as though Lola's sexual agency is entirely to do with her having the sex. This is not true. Her friend who is not having the sex is also expressing her own agency; she is not sexing it up because she has shit to do (i.e. college, etc.) and wants to concentrate all of her energy on that. There isn't really a lot a background related to her first experience (the fact that her BF is 22 to her 16/17 is worthy of squick and grossed me out a bit) but the tone of the whole book makes it seem that she is having the sex because she wants to.