Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Genre: YA (14+) - Contemporary
Genre: YA (14+) - Contemporary
♪ (to come) ♪
I read rave reviews, saw the ratings, loved the soft tones of the cover. This book was completely hyped up for me, and so my expectations were through the roof. It is a pleasure most divine when these expectations are met.
So this book is mainly marketed as a romance book. And it is. But it is so, so much more than that.
And that is why I loved it so much. Because for all the light-hearted feel-good romance-y moments, there are also clear themes of struggle and pain, life, family, friendship, guilt, shame, self-image, identity, social class, the future... My Life Next Door is very literally about Sam's life with the Garretts who live next door -- yes that does include her soaring romance with the swoonworthy BOY NEXT DOOR Jase, but the synopsis doesn't say anything about the amazing cast of characters with a surprising amount of depth to them. Doesn't say anything about how you might fall in love with all the ones you're meant to fall in love with, dislike the ones you're meant to dislike, second-guess and question the ones that make questionable decisions. I have a lot to say about this book, so let's get on with it.
Samantha Reed, her politician mum Grace and older sister Tracy lead a priviledged life at Stony Bay, Connecticut. And then there's the Garrett family that live next door: loud, messy, and with eight kids, BIG. Mother Dearest made it clear from early on that they "were not to play with the Garretts". But Sam would look out from her bedroom window and watch the Garretts. All the time. One summer night as she watches, she meets Jase, the third child. Spoiler: he's the swoonworthy romantic interest. And she soon falls into babysitting for Mrs Garrett. Almost like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, Sam has to keep her life with Jase, and the Garretts, a secret from her mum. Things are good for a while, and like always, soon come tumbling down like a stack of glasses.
This is the perfect summer book. It can't really be explained, but the sounds and sights and feelings of summer simply fall out of the pages. The prose, written in the perspective of Sam, is direct and honest. The setting, the simple prose and subject matter all translate to a great summer read. I would not go so far as to say that this book is fluff - and neither does the label 'summer book' immediately equate to 'complete fluff'... For all the smiles and laughter this book inspired in me I was also hit with worry/concern, sadness and anger. I found myself relating to some of these characters whose issues are so inherently linked to growing up: pressure from family and their expectations of you; feeling trapped by an unspoken truth; being the good OR bad child; wanting to get away; and so on. In 394 pages, Huntley Fitzpatrick, a DEBUT AUTHOR, managed to tie everything in without trivialising any one issue.
It would have been easy to make Sam an unlikeable and unrelatable character. But despite all of her privileges and seeming perfections, she keeps it real. Instead of luxuriating in her inherited wealth, she works two jobs, helps out with her mum's campaign and spends her nights mystified by the crazy life led by her next-door neighbours. She points out that she is not like her mum who disapproves of the chaos and uncertainty that is the Garrett family. I liked her. Writing a good protagonist is a tricky task, especially when that protagonist seems to have everything going for her.
The 10 Garretts consist of:
* Mr Garrett, a stern and hardworking man who runs the local hardware store and trains Jase for football.
* Mrs Garrett, the warm and loving mother who welcomes Sam into the family with open arms.
* Joel, the oldest, leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding...
* Alice, the kickass nursing student (so naturally I loved her) who is fiercely loyal and protective of her family, smart, level-headed AND dyes her hair all colours of the rainbow.
* Jase, THE boy next door, with a passion for animals and fixing things. He is just the sweetest thing.
* Andy, 14 years old and starting her first relationship (with the boy she'd been crushing on for three years).
* Duff & Harry, the two younger kids that can't ever seem to stop fighting.
* George... who really is a curious fellow. A fountain of knowledge on animals. He's simply adorable. :)
* Patsy... the baby of the bunch. Her first word is boob. She has a one-breast preference.
I am so glad that there will be a sequel. I cannot wait to read more about this family and find out what happens to them after the end of this book!
One thing that I need to address in this book is the way that the romance was handled. This pairing rivals Anna and St. Clair. They are just so sweet together AND their relationship builds slowly. I appreciated how realistic their progression was and how they handled the obstacles that they faced as a new couple and under certain circumstances. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Fitzpatrick's exploration of their relationship, is how sex was addressed. I like that it WAS addressed at all. I like that Sam expresses awareness of Jase's body (and what she'd like to do with it) - that is true to teenager behaviour and thought-form! I like that Jase and Sam talk about it, I like that they prepare for it (i.e. buy condoms). Most of all, I like that it was portrayed realistically: it's a bit messy and awkward, but "Here's the truth: In movies, it's never half so lovely as it is here and now with Jase" (259). I can probably count the amount of YA books I've read that addressed sex. And none of them hit the nail on the head quite as hard as My Life Next Door did.
And then there's Sam's best friend, Nan. They've been through it all together. I think Nan was an important character to have. She's the kind of friend that seems to take more than she gives. I really want her to be in the sequel so I can understand her even better. At the end of this book my impression of her changed dramatically; I can try to understand why she did what she did but I feel like I need more explanation.
I think I also need to talk about Tim, Nan's brother. I absolutely loved him. He's kind of a jerk, not to mention a stoner drug addict, but he goes through so much change and it's all so wonderfully portrayed. I am really glad that he's going to be at the forefront of the sequel. I think his perspective will be an interesting one, and his story really isn't done yet.
Sam's mum is a massive aspect of this book. She also goes through some changes. She plays the bad guy (along with her boyfriend Clay Tucker), but really, I couldn't hate her. Most of her dialogue aggravated me, and I couldn't agree on any of her opinions or beliefs, but she's not a bad person. More than anyone else, she has her good and bad sides. She is only human, which becomes incredibly more evident by the end of the book.
Ten thumbs up for My Life Next Door. Unputdownable, a delightful and engrossing read, with characters that one simply cannot forget. One of the sweetest and most realistic teen romances I've ever read. This is definitely going into my re-read list! I'm not sure I can even wait for the paperback of the sequel to be released!
First line: The Garretts were forbidden from the start. But that's not why they were important.
"'You have to kiss me,' I find myself saying.
'Yeah.' He leans closer. 'I do.' (98)
"'I don't believe this.' Mom reaches under the kitchen sink... 'You're friends? Exactly what does that mean?'
Well, we've bought some condoms, Mom, and sometime soon . . .
For a moment I want to say it so badly, I'm afraid it'll just tumble out.' (224)
"'That's Mom,' I say automatically. 'Not me.' My theme song still.
But . . . it is me. Staying quiet, pretending. I am doing exactly what Mom has done. I am, after all, just like her. (343)
AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | The Nile
I purchased this book with my own money. All opinions written here are my own.