Even though they were published years apart, Love & Lies is set only a few months after the events of Hard Love. Wittlinger strongly downplays the zine aspect of the first book, though, which makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a timeless contemporary.
Marisol has deferred college, and is working at a semi-down-and-out coffee shop in Harvard Square, sharing an apartment with Birdie—who is driving her bananas, as he keeps bring home stray animals, and recently, a stray PERSON—and working on a novel.
She enrolls in an Adult Ed course to help her write said novel, and lo and behold, Gio Galardi is in the same class. Also, the instructor is brilliant and fascinating and DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS. And it isn't long before Marisol is head-over-heels in love.
As a sequel. Sequels are difficult things, and sequels to much-adored, groundbreaking stories that are considered part of the bedrock of YA As We Know It are even more difficult. (Obviously.) As a standalone, Love & Lies is a decent book: the character development is good, the arc of the plotting works, the dialogue and interplay between the characters is believable and, for the most part, emotionally compelling.
As a sequel, though, it doesn't entirely stand up to the amazingness that is Hard Love. Hard Love is more layered, has more depth, is more about John/Gio's process of re-entering and re-connecting with the world (and himself) after a long absence, while Love & Lies relies more simply on A-to-B-to-C plot, in that it's more about Marisol's experience in dating a [SPOILER] sociopath. Yes, her experiences lead to growth, and we get to know her far better than we did in Hard Love—for one thing, she's not nearly as confident and pulled together as she likes people to think—but comparatively, there was just... something missing here.
Lee. On one hand, I loved that Marisol and Lee's relationship followed the same arc as hers and Gio's in Hard Love. Marisol makes almost exactly the same mistakes (the main one being that she knows her friend has feelings for her, but she pretends that she doesn't, and it eventually All Goes Wrong), and that's so realistic—so often in life, it takes a few tries to learn a lesson, and I don't see that in fiction a whole lot.
I also liked how Marisol and Lee paralleled Olivia and Marisol: in both cases, one of them was much more experienced, had much more power, and was adored by the other without reciprocating. The difference, though, is that Lee steps up and comes into her own, and by the end of the story, is well on her way to being on equal footing with Marisol. My problem? Is that I never really get to KNOW Lee. And so [SPOILER] Marisol's change of heart about her at the end lacked emotional resonance: it felt more like her interest in Lee was about her Not Being Olivia than it was about her Being Lee. If that makes sense.
Marisol's continued self-discovery. One of things that I thought was especially realistic-yet-maddening about Marisol in Hard Love was her insistence on defining herself almost entirely—at least outwardly, verbally—by her sexuality. Because of course, we are all so many different things. But it made sense in context of the story, in context of who she was at that time in her life, and in context of the issues she was interested in and wanted other people to be interested in.
In Love & Lies, she starts—sparked by conversations with Lee and Birdie—thinking about the idea that you can't define who you are by one factor alone. Also! I loved seeing Marisol's struggle with lying—and, in another parallel, get accused of doing pretty much the same sort of stuff that she told Gio off for doing in Hard Love—and her journey towards seeing the world, seeing human interactions, in shades of gray rather than in black-and-white.
Birdie and Gio and Diana, Marisol's parents. I loved seeing Birdie and Gio, especially, do a bit of bonding. And the dinner scene at Marisol's house was priceless.
TL;DR: Is it comparable to Hard Love? No. Of course it isn't. But it's a solid book nonetheless, and despite my ambivalence towards her, I'd welcome another sequel about Lee—I'd like to get to know her better.
Book source: Bought.