Sometimes, an author’s first effort is so good that it’s inevitable that any follow-up will fall short of expectations. Had Lola and the Boy Next Door been written by any other young adult author, I likely would have given it the highest rating possible, despite its many faults, because Stephanie Perkins’ writing is engaging enough to discount any flaws. Yet, being unable to resist comparing Lola to Perkins’ debut, Anna and the French Kiss, I was never quite able to reach the exalted heights that Perkins’ first book took me to.
Having established that comparison is inescapable, I couldn’t help but lament how difficult it was to relate to Lola, unlike the instant camaraderie that most readers felt with Anna. Anna is the girl every woman wishes she had been as a teenager, or at least had as a best friend. Lola is the type of flamboyant personality that is rarely seen outside the pages of fiction, which normally would not deter me from empathizing with the character, yet was in this case a disappointment in contrast to Anna’s eminently relatable narration. Whereas the characters in Anna each had enough uniqueness to set them apart and round them out into believable personas, Lola’s overload of quirkiness overpowers all of the supporting characters while undermining her own credibility. While I was acquainted with many message-bearing fashionistas during my high school years (and even experimented with it myself on several unfortunate occasions), Lola’s single-minded devotion to being different actually makes her seem more one-dimensional. Granted, her repeated instances of puerile antics regarding both her parental and romantic relationships served as a major impediment to finding any endearing qualities in Lola, even despite her over-characterization.
As Lola’s immature perspective so thoroughly dominated the novel, even those characters showing real promise were ultimately left lacking. In contrast to Anna‘s Etienne, who stole readers’ hearts despite some rather ghastly mistakes on his part, Lola‘s Cricket never quite manages to stand on his own two feet. This is especially disappointing given the fact that I enjoyed the glimpses of non-Lola centered passion I saw in him. His gift for invention, his friendship with his sister, his own fashion transformation that manages successfully to straddle the line of quirk and believability, all could have been developed so much more, yet were subsumed by his infatuation with Lola. By using one of my least favorite tropes (that of the pre-established relationship), Perkins deprives readers of the opportunity to watch a friendship turn into a romance, as she so brilliantly captured in Anna.
Still, despite my problems with the story, I eagerly gobbled it up in one sitting, and there were elements that I enjoyed. As mentioned previously, I liked Cricket’s character (even his name, unlike some other reviewers) as well as those of Lola’s two dads. I wish they had been given more page time. Ironically, I also wish Perkins had devoted a little less space to Anna and Etienne, who appear as secondary characters in the story, for while it was nice to see them again, their portrayal was a tad too saccharine this time around. Nevertheless, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Isla and the Happily Ever After next year.