|“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?
Even before I started reading, everything about My Life Next Door made me think of summer — a cute family, sunny days, an adorkable (sort of illicit) relationship with the boy next door. Though it certainly delivered everything it promised me, there is something slightly misleading about this novel’s pretty (or charmingly-awkward) cover. My Life Next Door is more than a casual beach read.
Samantha Reed lives in the perfectly arranged, prim, magazine-catalogue house, next door to a huge, messy, warm family, completely the opposite of hers. Since the beginning (when they first move in), Huntley Fitzpatrick mesmerized me with the Garretts’ world. I can’t describe how much I wanted to know these people, to live next door
(or, as creepy as this may sound, in their house with them) to such a fun-loving, adorable family. Though they fought and argued and disagreed like any other family, it was easy to see how much they truly cared about each other, the imperfect model to which no other family in this novel can compare.
The heart of My Life Next Door is the relationships — not Sam’s relationship with Jase Garrett, but various relationships between family and friends. While the Garretts made me want to adopt them, I thought the interactions between Sam and her family, and her best friend Nan’s family (the Masons) were equally interesting and more heartbreaking. I’ll be honest: I spent most of this novel muttering under my breath about how unfit Grace Reed was to be a mother, let alone a senator, or how the hypocrisy of her campaign both disturbed and amused me. I also hated, especially because I have friends whose families are falling apart for similar reasons, the way the Masons turned a blind eye to all of Tim’s (Nan’s brother’s) shenanigans, instead of trying to actually help or understand him. As much as they frustrated me, I appreciated the realism, and my heart went out to Samantha and Tim the more they hurt and struggled. On the other hand, I truly enjoyed watching Tim grow as a character, slowly creeping into Sam and the Garretts’ hearts (and my own) until it became impossible to imagine the story without him.
I especially loved the way Huntley Fitzpatrick revealed much about her characters through the choices they made. As an honest and relatable narrator, though I didn’t always like the decisions she made, Samantha was easy to understand, and I hoped she’d become more comfortable with herself and her life.
It astonished me how quickly Tim transformed from “that character who was pitiable and frustrating” to “that character who was hilarious, amusingly annoying, and awesome”. And during his not-so-awesome moments, I was still interested in the history he shared with Samantha. If you can’t tell, after a certain point, I lived for his presence on the page.
For the most part, I enjoyed the slow pacing of the novel, delighting in the homely atmosphere next door. I also thought it was brilliant that the story didn’t head in the direction I thought it would (with the primary conflict being Sam’s secret romance with Jase). Unfortunately, because the actual main conflict wasn’t introduced until the story was already 75% over, the last quarter (and the conflict’s resolution) felt too rushed and almost unnatural. I also thought it was a little strange the way Jase wasn’t too hurt that Samantha had kept him a secret from her mom, but at the same time, I liked that they were able to get past the hurdles in their relationship maturely.
The Garretts have a pet snake. Named Voldemort. The Harry Potter fangirl in me flailed.
Warning: Though it’s tastefully and realistically done, and it isn’t graphic at all, there is a small sex scene.
Patsy is the cutest baby ever. And I love that “boob” and “poop” are the only words she can say.
Nan bothered me through most of My Life Next Door, but it made me angry the way she used her petty jealousy and her own mistakes to just end her “best-friendship” with Sam. I know there are times in real life when certain decisions and arguments cause a friendship to fizzle out of existence, and not all relationships are salvageable, but I hated that no one tried, no one talked it out. The issue was left unresolved, and sure, I wouldn’t even want to be friends with a person like Nan, but this loose end hit me hard.
As brief as the analysis was, I loved that Sam noticed the connection between the guys her mom chooses to date, the way she acts around them, and her own sense of self-worth and personal strength. It’s a random observation, but it was refreshing to see a YA heroine comment on how sad it is when a woman, even if it’s her own mother, loses sight of who she is because of a guy
(especially an ass like Clay).
If it isn’t already obvious… I’d like to punch Clay Tucker in the face.
Jase reminded me of one of my favorite YA contemporary males, Wes Baker from Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. Talented, patient, sweet, understanding, thoughtful — he was the perfect boyfriend in a messy-haired, olive-skinned, sinewy-built package. Part of me did feel that Jase may have been a little TOO good to be real, but this didn’t deter me from appreciating the novel or adoring the character. I do, however, wish we had gotten to know him on a deeper level, the way Sam knows him now that he’s an actual person in her reality and no longer just part of the unattainable bedtime story over the fence.
Overall, My Life Next Door is a candid tale about love, family, friendship, and the role choices, pre-conceived notions, and self-identity play in our lives. Readers seeking a charming summer romance (or more) should definitely pick it up.