Remember your first love? Remember that electric charge that shot through your fingertips when his hand brushed against yours? Remember waiting by the phone for his call? (For those under thirtyish: phones used to be attached to the wall, usually in the kitchen. If you were lucky, it had a long boingy cord you could stretch into another room so you could talk with some degree of privacy and not suffer your little brothers dancing around you chanting Jody’s got a boyfriend Jody’s got a boyfriend.) And remember when he dumped you for a girl named Stacy and you buried yourself under your covers and cried into your pillow until you had no tears left to shed and then you would torment yourself by accidentally on purpose running into him (and that twit, Stacy)?
Ah. Young love. There is nothing more wondrous and painful. And if you want to experience it again, in all its heartbreaking and dramatic glory, I’ve got the book for you.
But first, an aside about that still-bugging me article in the Wall Street Journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon. I heard her on NPR debating YA author Lauren Myracle, and I have to admit that she—Gurdon—sounded more reasonable and intelligent than I had assumed. But still. There is something that ticks me off about one person deciding what is appropriate reading material for an entire group. Kids (like, uh, people) are different. Some can handle more mature material and some aren’t emotionally ready for it yet. Some are exposed to far worse things in their own lives than ANYTHING they could read in a book. I’m sorry if there are some people out there who don’t understand that or don’t want to believe it. And I still maintain that kids will be drawn to the books they are ready for when they are ready to read them. In the end, they can always close the book. And as a former English teacher and mother of two teens, I can guarantee you, they will. I can also guarantee that when we tell kids NOT to read a book, it makes it all the more likely they will seek it out. This dates me, but the censored, “trashy” book when I was a teen was the series Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. (Which also happens to be about young love, albeit of the twisted, incestuous variety.) Everyone I knew was reading these books, passing them around like they were illegal drugs under the cafeteria tables in our Catholic high school.
Love comes in many forms. And kids, who are trying to figure things out about the world of love, can safely and cathartically experience it in books. It might disturb adults that a teen’s first experience will be of four pale waifs locked in an attic by their evil selfish mother, but I’m going to assume that none of us rabid readers of VC Andrews thought that turning to our brother in times of crisis was a swell idea.
But okay. Let’s talk about a good book about love. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. What makes a good book about love, you may be asking? Well, first, I think it has to have realistic, complex characters and not the one-dimensional variety of perfect, handsome boys with hard-planed chests. I don’t even know what this means exactly, but I’ve been coming across this description over and over again since I first read it in Twilight. Yes. Edward Cullen has a hard-planed chest. That’s also ice cold. Not sure why this is appealing to teen girls. I think I’d rather run my hands over a warm, hard-planed chest. But maybe that’s just me.
I don’t know what kind of chest Cricket Bell, the handsome boy in Lola and Boy Next Door, has. But I do know that he’s a brilliant inventor. He’s shy. He’s fiercely devoted to his twin sister who is an Olympic level figure skater. And his upstairs bedroom window is directly across from Lola’s upstairs bedroom window. Lola is a costume designer and creative wig wearer with a complicated family. Her two dads are over-protective, but only because they don’t like her boyfriend. It’s not Cricket. It’s Max, and Lola is crazy in love with him even though he’s much older and sometimes mocks her fashion style. Also, she’s still ticked off at Cricket for breaking her heart several years ago. And even though he was her first love, she’s not holding onto any feelings for him. Really. She’s over him. She loves Max now.
Perkins gives us a love triangle with real people (not vampires and werewolves) and no easy answers. Lola and the Boy Next Door is sweet and angsty, just like young love. It’ll be out in September so make a note to look for it in then. In the meantime, check out Perkins’ first book Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a perfect summer beach read that’ll have you time-traveling back to your teen years before twitty Stacy came into the picture and stole your first love.