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Review: My Life Next Door

January 9, 2013

Title: My Life Next Door
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: June 14, 2012
Format: Library book

“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?—via Goodreads

Every now and then, I pick up a book thinking “Well this will be light and fun,” and then I start reading it and it is so much more than that.

My Life Next Door is that kind of book.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down. I devoured it, and resented having to stop and make myself food so that I wouldn’t literally devour the book while I was reading it. It’s the kind of book that took me from laughing out loud and hugging the book to my chest to literally sobbing and trying really hard not to cry on the book since I had to return it to the library.

You better believe that I bought my own copy.

What I loved most about this book is that the plot is so layered—it hits on topics of loneliness, stress, supporting a friend who is battling addiction, first love, determining for yourself what is right and wrong in a world where everything is so, so gray, and even more so when your mother is in politics—but the pacing is casual, as Fitzpatrick takes her time with the story, allowing relationships to slowly develop and unravel,  positioning families who have lived next door to each other for years and are polar opposites  to become irrevocably intertwined,  and creating a summer that changes everything in both of those families’ lives.

The pacing, y’all. I swoon for the pacing. (This is how we know I’m a humongous nerd.)

But the characters are pretty great too. Samantha is introspective, obedient, the youngest woman in a household of three women, who yearns for a life that isn’t puritanical and controlled by her mother. That’s why she watches the Garretts, the next door neighbors who have a loud, rambunctious house full of kids. Then one day, she meets and becomes friends with Jase Garrett, who—I swear to you—climbs her trellis to get to her.

I mean. C’mon.

Jase is the kind of guy who quietly sweeps you off your feet—he’s calm and confident, without being smarmy or cocky. On a couple different occasions, Samantha observes that even at seventeen, he’s more a man than a boy, which is so apt and kind of makes me melt a little. However, I would have never made it with Jase because he owns both a snake and a ferret, which is basically just a snake with fur. But somehow Samantha doesn’t care about those things, and the two of them are perfect without be nauseating. But that doesn’t mean their relationship is without hardship.

There are other relationships in this story, too—Samantha’s best friends, the siblings Nan and Tim, each of whom is struggling with their own mental and emotional battles. In the course of this book, you see enormous shifts within these relationships, in a way that is surprising, a little upsetting, but ultimately really spot-on to how friendships evolve. And then you have Samantha’s relationship with her mother—a perfectionist who is running for state senate, her mother’s new boyfriend, Clay, whom I was sure was some sort of con artist, but turns out to just be an intensely political animal: this relationship is strained, restrained, and cold. When juxtaposed with the immediate warmth, fun, and openness of the Garretts, the contrast is stark and, at times, startling. Where Samantha’ s house is full of consequences and critique, Jase’s is full of understanding and compassion.

You guys, I don’t even know how to explain to you how much I loved reading this book. My biggest harrumph with it—aside from Jase owning reprehensible creatures—is that Samantha often wears nightgowns, which is baffling to me. Do people actually wear nightgowns? Am I ignorant of a nightgown-wearing culture?

Anyway.

I’ve always heard the writing advice, “When you think you’ve tortured your main character enough, find other ways to do it,” which always seemed rather evil to me. But My Life Next Door is the kind of book that shows you just how much you can put your characters—and your reader—through, and just how much better that makes the story.

This book is all of the things: funny, heartwarming, a heaping dash sexy, heartbreaking, and resonant.

Seriously. Read this book. You won’t be sorry you did.

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