In the spirit if summer beach reads, this week we read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. The books are billed as flirty and fun, contemporary teen romances, and they did not disappoint. Where Perkins succeeds most is her ability to tap into the teenage girl psyche. She understands that to her readers platonically sleeping with a crush or having a boy brush your hair is sexier than, well, sex.
This companion set begins with Anna. She is forced to spend her senior year in a boarding school for American students in Paris. She wants no part of it. She misses her best friend, her mother and brother, and wants to be flirting with her crush who has only begun to notice her. Plus she doesn’t speak French. She is quickly absorbed into an existing friend group. As she slowly gets over her culture shock, the book follows Anna dealing with the dramas typical of a close-knit clique: jealousies, friends who move on, crushes with girl friends, family problems and more.
Perkins creates believable characters and manages to imbibe each episode with the right amount of importance. However, I felt some distance from the narrative. I couldn’t help thinking almost every chapter how much more I would have liked it if I had read it for the first time when I was in high school. Despite the good writing and excellent pacing, I didn’t connect.
I had no such problem with Lola and the Boy Next Door. From the first page I loved Lola. Lola doesn’t wear clothes; she wears costumes. She lives in San Francisco with her two dads, dates a punk rocker in his early twenties, and has a serious grudge against her neighbors and childhood playmates, Calliope and Cricket Bell. When they move back, Lola must sift through a lifetime of feeling for the boy next door.
For me, Lola was a more interesting and engaging character. Beyond her outrageous outfits, I found her funnier and more vibrant than Anna. Throughout the second book, I felt like there was more at stake. Both books have romance as the main plot, but while Anna spent most of her book trying to decide what boy she likes and what she should do about it, Lola deals with questions of her identity and struggles coming to terms with her birth parents.
Cricket Bell, boy next door and aspiring inventor, is probably my favorite character in the whole series. From the rubber bands he wears on his wrists to the detailed descriptions of the way he wears his pants, let’s just say that I have a serious crush … which feels a little creepy now that I am almost officially in my mid-twenties.
I suggest you read both books (not only because Anna pops up as a regular character in the second book) and decide for yourself. Both main characters are fantastic, because they each have distinct passions (Anna loves film, Lola sewing). They each have a strong sense of self, but remain vulnerable. If you want to travel back to the highs and lows of adolescence with two charmingly understated romances then these are the books for you. I can see myself rereading them when I want something like, and will definitely check out Perkins next novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After.
For further reading and reviews:
- Anna and the French Kiss review on The Book Barbies
- Lola and the Boy Next Door review on The Book Sleuth
- Review on both books on Rampant Reads
- Interview with Stephanie Perkins
*Update from February 2014: I don’t know why I didn’t connect with Anna’s story the first time I read it, but I just wanted to say that I’ve reread both books several times since writing this review. My opinion now, is that they are both really captivating, riveting, top-notch contemporary YA romances.