I’m not sure there’s really such a thing as a “perfect” novel (all books can all be improved upon somehow, right?), but this weekend I read a story that was, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as one can get:
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins was just SO FREAKING FABULOUS. I mean really… I found myself grinning like an idiot as I read, blown away by the awesomeness printed on every. Single. Page. I’m not going to go into a full review today (though one will surely come later!) because more than anything, Lola got me thinking about what makes a novel stand out as truly amazing.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you read several books in a month. The bulk of those might hover somewhere around GOOD (like, three or four stars on Goodreads). There are probably a few that STINK, or, just weren’t for you (the one or two star books). And, if you’re lucky, there might be one that separates itself from the pack. It’s that elusive five-star book that makes you laugh and cry and gasp and clench your fists in indignation and cheer for the characters as if you know them. It’s the book that makes you feel.
I think we can all agree that the perfect book is a careful combination and precarious balance of crucial literary elements, melded together in a seamless, harmonious way. A way that makes us care totally and completely about the future of the book’s characters. It’s those crucial elements, though, that are different for all of us. Some people are all about character development. Others, pacing. Some are looking for adventure, or gorgeous writing, or steamy romance, or a setting that sings. It’s the importance of each of these elements, and the way they’re merged, that makes some people swoon over Edward and Bella’s undying love, and others cringe in disgust.
It’s a very subjective thing.
For me, the crucial Big Five elements that play into MY perfect book are:
- Relatable, likable main characters. These people need to sPaRkLe.
- A believable, naturally progressing (read: HOT) romance.
- Flawless, distinctly-styled writing with engaging, authentic dialogue.
- A unique setting, so richly and beautifully described I want to go there. Or, so crazily terrifying it gives me nightmares.
- The unexpected. Twists and turns that leave me reeling. My jaw needs to drop at least once.
If those Big Five are all there, skillfully blended, I’ve found a favorite. In fact, if my Big Five are strong enough, I can overlook other weaknesses. A slow pace, for example. Or a somewhat flat supporting character. Or a slightly unresolved ending. If my Big Five are present and accounted for, I’m going to care. I’m going to feel. I’m going to have an emotional experience, one I’ll always remember. I’m going to recommend that book up and down and all around. And I’m going to be a very happy reader.
Books that are on my Favorites List because they so perfectly unify my Big Five: Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Franny Billingsley’s Chime, The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield, and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere.
What are your must-have elements for an ideal reading experience? What books are on your personal “Perfect” List?