Title:  Lola and the Boy Next Door [indie bound] [amazon]
Author: Stephanie Perkins [website] [twitter] [facebook]
Genre:  Contemporary
Publisher: Dutton Books
Series: None
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Source: Publisher (via YAlibrarian Tales – who rocks!)
Parental Advisory: drugs, alcohol, language, LGBTQ, infidelity
Teachable Moments: individuality, independence, responsibility, tolerance, parentage/family dynamics

“Lindsey’s words have been looping inside my head all week.  How is it possible for me to feel this way?  To be interested in Cricket and still be concerned about my relationship with Max?  I want things to be okay with my boyfriend, I do.  It’s supposed to be simple.  I don’t want another complication.  I don’t want to be interested in Cricket.”

Summary (from the publisher):
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.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Perkins is a master of the contemporary genre.  In this sophomore effort she writes a fun and fluffy story that entertains with quirky characters and valuable lessons about tolerance and individuality.

So, let me start with what didn’t work for me so that I can get to the good stuff.  First, I found that this story didn’t quite live up to the awesomeness that was Anna and the French Kiss.  I can’t say that is entirely Perkins’ fault as I would certainly factor in the hype factor in the blogosphere and my own huge expectations.  I think, given those circumstances, it would be difficult for anyone to live up to that standard.  Having said that I did feel like there were some elements of the the book that just didn’t work for me.

To start, many times I felt like Perkins was making things quirky for the sake of being quirky….kind of piling it on as it were.  Lola was “different” in a variety of ways and then adding in Cricket who was also nebishy in his own nerdy ways and then add in the two gay dads having their quirks  and of course the older rock star boyfriend and it was just…yea, you get the point.  A little bit much for me.  I’m not typically a comparer but with Anna the characters were more down to Earth and straight forward, the story was more muted in it’s tone whereas Lola was more outlandish and felt a bit more forced.

Even so, I still found Lola and the Boy Next Door to be an enjoyable read.  Ironically (given the overpowering originality of the characters) the aspect of the book I enjoyed the most was the message of encouragement for people to be themselves.  That it’s acceptable and good to be the person you want to be and to accept that fact in others no matter what.  I find that threading this theme throughout the book was one that enhanced the experience.

Another strength was Perkins seizing the opportunity to show an alternative family lifestyle.  Lola’s parentage (two fathers instead of the traditional mother/father) arises as a result of being born to a mother who lacks the responsibility and capability to raise her.  Her mother is still in her life — which I think goes to show the complexity of the situation and how well adjusted Lola really is — but doesn’t have any true influence over her.  Her fathers are the sole and primary carers and nurturers and provide her a loving and supportive environment where she’s learned to be independent and free-thinking.  This isn’t to say that she doesn’t have the typical teenaged drama.  Her parents don’t like her boyfriend, she’s a bit of a stand-alone at school and is busy trying to navigate that, and she’s got romantic problems. Sure, the romantic problems are self-imposed but still, a problem is a problem right?

Speaking of which, as always, Perkins’ creates a good angsty romance with a fair share of push and pull between the love interests as well as some external forces to reckon with.  Lola has her rocker boyfriend (again, that her parents aren’t particularly in love with) and then she has boy next door Cricket who is clearly  more straight laced and socially acceptable.  Of course it’s not a stretch to realize who Lola’s dads would prefer.  But, the romance is written in the way that even though there are small nudges from such external forces as her fathers and Cricket’s family (specifically his sister) the crux of the experience is solely initiated by Lola’s own thoughts and actions.  It’s kind of like sweet and sour — where on one hand she’s got her current harder edged boyfriend and on the other she’s got the more docile and even tempered Cricket.

I doubt anyone will find this book has loads of surprises or unexpected twists and turns as they read through.  I didn’t.  But in the end, I quite enjoyed Lola and the Boy Next Door.  I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to but think it’s a good addition to the contemporary genre and brings the fun and fluff.  Even with it’s touches of angst and conflict it’s a mostly fun and light read; a good pick-me-up!