Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Lola And The Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins | an adorable and charismatic contemporary romance

22247695Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion… she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – the more sparkly, more wild – the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. Could the boy from Lola’s past be the love of her future?

Fall in love with the international bestseller from queen of young adult fiction, Stephanie Perkins.

I’m half embarrassed to say I actually liked this book, but I believe there was no way I couldn’t have fallen for this book eventually, at least a little bit. Even with its flaws and occasional cheesiness, Lola And The Boy Next Door is undeniably charming.

Plot + writing: The book got off to a somewhat slow start, but quickly fell into a pattern that I could recognize and follow. The writing was delightfully sweet but not saccharine, and there is just a very light, happy vibe to it even when something stressful is taking place (and trust me, there are a lot of stressful moments). Perkins also has a great talent for combining the most relatable feelings when it comes to crushes and liking someone with the fun maintained throughout the book. All the confusion, heartache, and butterflies are so subtly and perfectly conveyed, creating a great balance between deeper subjects concerning love and the mindless entertainment that Perkins does so well. I will admit that elements of this book can come across as somewhat unimaginable, from Lola’s outlandish apparel to the overall outlandishness of some events that take place. However, Lola’s feelings and struggles with being herself and finding love are so realistically told and the romance is so positively swoon-worthy, that these elements don’t do much to hinder the overall message of the story.

Characters: The characters are actually quite likable, despite the occasional eccentric behavior they display in the commonly eccentric situations presented. Lola is a witty, quirky, realistic teenage girl who I’m sure any teenager could relate to. It is easy to presume her personality as being childish or immature (her ornate wardrobe could play a part), but despite all the wacky situations she stumbles into, Lola remains a likable character who is positively and negatively affected by her hormones just like the rest of us. Cricket is a fairly fleshed-out and realistic character as well, and I definitely liked him more than St. Clair in Anna And The French Kiss. Speaking of Anna And The French Kiss, both Anna and St. Clair make cameos in this book, which was absolutely great. I think they stuck around for a good amount of time without taking the spotlight away from Lola’s story, and even shared details of their future after leaving Paris.

One thing I have to comment on is the amount of side characters in the book, which is significantly lower than Anna And The French Kiss. While I do like this, I wish the main secondary characters were more fleshed-out and three-dimensional, similar to the leads. Rashmi and Josh from Anna were pretty layered side characters, and Lindsay (Lola’s best friend) and Calliope (Cricket’s twin sister) don’t really match up to their amount of depth. Max is a bit confusing, because while he was a flawed person and boyfriend, I thought the sudden change in character toward the end and the lack of resolve in his relationship with Lola … well, lacked resolve. I do feel as though his character and many of the secondary characters could use some work. Lola’s dads are great though.

Romance: The romance obviously takes center stage in this story, and it is just as adorable and fuzzy yet angsty as one might imagine it to be. Cricket and Lola are a charming pair and aren’t short of any chemistry. While there is a substantial dosage of cheese, it’s not too much to make you cringe (well, not always at least). The angst factor is similar to any real-life situation dealing with young love (young being the key word), and I loved the angst because I could totally feel where Lola was coming from. Coming to terms with your feelings for someone, experiencing heartbreak, and discovering your self-worth are all such relatable feelings and Perkins depicted it all so realistically. Cricket and Lola’s relationship is full of ups and downs, but the ride is so worth reading about.

While I enjoyed Anna And The French Kiss, Lola And The Boy Next Door was definitely and surprisingly more engaging to me, and I’m so looking forward to the next installment and whatever Perkins decides to write next. Would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a fuzzy romance with the right amount of depth to match it.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins | a fluffy romance that contemporary fans will devour

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Can Anna find love in the City of Light?
Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she’s less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.
But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he’s taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she’s waiting for?

We essentially had a free period in my last class a few days ago, so I decided to get lit and read Anna And The French Kiss. I had already read nearly a quarter of it throughout the day, and guess what happened? I finished it about 10 minutes after I got home from school. BOOM. I read a whole book in a single day. That might sound commonplace to some readers, but is a big deal for me, who has to take certain breaks whilst reading because I just can’t focus that long on one thing. And that serves as proof that Anna And The French Kiss is immensely engrossing and difficult to put down. I may have my problems with it here and there, but it definitely brightened up my (very boring) day with its never-ending fluffiness.

A beautiful setting and just the right amount of depth: This book is set in Paris, which is unusual for a YA novel, but I enjoyed it. There were many descriptions of the local settings and museums and art that Anna explored, and it definitely made me want to explore France and travel abroad in general. The descriptions were a little simplistic, somewhat typical for a chick-lit novel, and I do wish Perkins took it a little further, but I enjoyed reading about the day-to-day life in France, Anna’s new life. The overall atmosphere of the book might seem to be a bit sunny and happy most of the time, but there are themes such as belonging and learning to navigate life on your own, which are relatable for teenagers. Not to mention there was much commentary on relationships, intimacy, and unrequited love as well. Etienne has a girlfriend, Rashmi and Josh (Anna’s new buddies) have their issues, and Mer (Anna’s first ‘friend’ in Paris) is in love with Etienne. Lots of relationship drama which may get annoying at a point, but I liked how subtly realistic it was when it came to being alone, falling in love, and how it can change you. Again, I do wish it was explored a bit deeper, however for a chick-lit book, these themes were expanded enough to entertain the reader and provide insight.

The frustrating yet likable main characters: The characters were a problematic point to an extent, it’s hard to like them and hard to hate them, simultaneously. Anna tends be a bit irritating throughout, mostly due to her actions and words and even thoughts. She comes off as a little dumb towards the beginning, pretty much representing the stereotype of an ignorant American. Her rambling when it came to conversing with Etienne (not all the time though, thank god) was cringey and got me feeling second-hand embarrassment. Fortunately, she changes as the plot moves on, and while she keeps that giggly persona of hers, there is also her struggle with love and all the relationship angst. She notably changes in her overall nature during the period in which she is angry and disappointed in Etienne and how he continues to stay with his girlfriend, Elise, when Anna and him have clearly shown feelings for each other. She turns into a restless, confused, bitchy person and lashes out at several people in her head, atypical for her. This aspect might be annoying most of the time, but I thought it was pretty realistic actually. I mean, when I’m frustrated and confused for a prolonged period of time, I tend to be more on edge than usual. I really don’t see all the hype around Etienne though, which caused problems for me considering everyone was constantly kissing his British/French/American ass. He’s cute and funny at times, but I just can’t seem to love him fully.

Even more conflicting side characters: There are a multitude of side characters that mostly land on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Rashmi and Josh, two of Anna’s new friends in Paris, I liked. Rashmi didn’t give a shit but also had a softer side and Josh was really funny and relatable. Both of them also had their relationship issues, which was well tied into to the initial theme of loneliness and intimacy. Mer, who Anna meets almost immediately after moving to Paris, I wasn’t a big fan of on the other hand. Not her fault, her character was just way too centered around her infatuation with Etienne and I would have liked to see more of a presence from her. Another character, Amanda, was also largely centered around her obsession with Etienne (dude gets way too much hype) and defined the term ‘bitchy’ perfectly. She was wholly one-dimensional and was made to look impure next to Anna, considering Anna slut-shames her continually throughout the book. Elise, Etienne’s girlfriend, was also slut-shamed and wasted as a character. I actually would have liked to know more about her, but her story was obviously not meant to be expanded on.

That confusing yet cute romance: Regardless of my indifference to Etienne and slight irritation of Anna throughout, there was a part of me that wanted them to be together. And how could you not? They aren’t lacking in chemistry and while their conversations aren’t as witty as I wanted them to be, they are cute together. Unfortunately, there are many elements  inhibiting them from properly starting a romantic relationship. Etienne has a girlfriend, Anna has a boy that she likes back in Atlanta, but they both are attracted to each other. They both have their issues with needing people and being alone that cause rifts in their friendship itself. I honestly don’t understand Etienne’s deal with Elise still (his ‘fear of lonliness’ wasn’t properly explored) and his whole relationship with Anna was borderline cheating. But, as much as I hated this aspect, the relationship angst definitely captured me. It made their ‘fairytale’ like relationship so much more realistic and likable even.

Overall, Anna And The French Kiss was a flighty romance that surprisingly and subtly incorporated real-life teenage drama in its story. Not everyone’s going to like it, but I’d suggest it to anyone who loves contemporaries in general.

-Haven