Originally reviewed here
I can tell you exactly what it was made me pick up this book for review (and what it was not
). It was the comparisons (yes, multiple) to one Anna and the French Kiss
. It was not
the cover. Yeah, the colors are pretty and the font is nice. But otherwise it's just awkward. And cheesy. And this book is neither. I think I would have left it at the fence and skipped the junior high dance pose couple. Because while this book does
have a romance in possession of the kind of heat you do not want to miss, that couple does not
do them justice. There. I've said it. We shall move on. I wasn't planning on reading MY LIFE NEXT DOOR at all, until I read the aforementioned comparisons and early happy reviews. Together they pushed me over the edge, and I went ahead and took the plunge. I mean, who in their right mind doesn't want to read a debut in the same vein as a Stephanie Perkins
novel? I am pretty much incapable of resisting that lure. So.
Samantha Reed has a secret. One she keeps from her high-powered, ambitious, and judgmental mother. She watches the Garretts next door. Sort of like a hobby. Her mother despises their next door neighbors, with their constant noise, eight active children, and inability to keep their lawn in order. But Samantha? She is fascinated by them. They're everything her little family of three is not. Gregarious, messy . . . happy. With her mother always campaigning for office and her older sister absorbed in her boyfriend and summer job, Sam is content to watch the Garretts. Until she unexpectedly makes the acquaintance of the third-oldest Garrett--Jase. And everything changes. Samantha tries desperately to keep it on the down-low, knowing full well how badly her mother will react. Knowing that one wrong step could mean she won't be able to keep them. And that is exactly what she wants. Because it doesn't take much time spent in their actual company for Sam to fall head over heels in love with not just Jase, but the whole lot of them--this twirly spectacle of a family who, unlike the Reeds, seem to have a firm grip on what it means to love each other and know who you are.
The Garretts were my bedtime story, long before I ever thought I'd be a part of the story myself.
Love that line. It's the one that reeled me in within the first few pages. So, while I can see what reviewers were thinking when they linked MY LIFE NEXT DOOR with Anna and the French Kiss
, I don't in the end find the comparison that apt. You certainly might enjoy one if you enjoyed the other. They are
both contemporary YA novels. They do
both involve just incredibly swoon-worthy boys (though Jase would simply tower over St. Clair). But there the similarities end. After the fact, I am of the opinion that the Sarah Dessen
comparisons are much more accurate. Which, you'll understand, unfortunately means this novel didn't work out for me quite
as well as I was hoping. But it also means that it is compulsively readable. And it very likely means that a lot of you out there are going to simply love it. Let's start with the positive. The Garretts. They are mesmerizing. Like Samantha, I just could not look away from them. And I love the image of her growing up, watching them--in all their chaotic effervescence--from her solitary bedroom window across the way. There are so many of them, yet I felt Huntley Fitzpatrick
did such a fine job of giving each sibling a distinct personality and role in the family and in the book. I loved each of them, and only wanted for more time in their company. These were by far my favorite moments in the book--when Sam is over at the Garrett's house babysitting, feeding the animals in Jase's room, or just basking in their company. Which leads me to Jase, who's company is most baskworthy. You are going to love
Jase. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He's kind of ideal in every way, which did occasionally lead me to wonder if Sam was really, well, up to speed if you will. I liked her a lot, but there was a bit of a disconnect between how utterly charming he was and how blatantly normal she was. I like the boy next door as much as the next girl, but this one did kind of steal the show from our girl. Which is not to say that I did not eat up every one of their scenes together with a spoon. Because let me tell you I did. It was these mundane details that made the book for me. Ms. Fitzpatrick has a gift for making the commonplace beautiful. But I did wish for a little more shine from Samantha to keep up with Jase. Here's a favorite interaction (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
When I get home from work the next day, sticky from walking back in the summer heat, my eyes immediately turn to the Garretts'. The house seems unusually quiet. I stand there looking, then see Jase in the driveway, lying on his back, doing some kind of work on a huge black-and-silver motorcycle.
I want to say right here that I am by no means the kind of girl who finds motorcycles and leather jackets appealing. In the last. Michael Kristoff, with his dark turtlenecks and moody poetry, was as close as I've gotten to liking a "bad boy," and he was enough to put me off them for life. We dated almost all spring, till I realized he was less a tortured artist than just a torture. That said, without planning, I walk right to the end of our yard, around my mother's tall "good neighbor" fence--the six-foot stockade she installed a few months after the Garretts moved in--and up the driveway.
"Hi there," I say. Brilliant opener, Samantha.
Jase props himself up on an elbow, looking at me for a minute without saying anything. His face gets an unreadable expression, and I wish I could take back walking over.
Then he observes, "I'm guessing that's a uniform."
Crap. I'd forgotten I was still wearing it. I look down at myself, in my short blue skirt, puffy white sailor blouse, and jaunty red neck scarf.
"Bingo." I'm completely embarrassed.
He nods, then smiles broadly at me. "It didn't quite say Samantha Reed to me somehow. Where on earth do you work?" He clears his throat. "And why there?"
"Breakfast Ahoy. Near the dock. I'm saving up for a car."
"My boss designed it."
Jase scrutinizes me in silence for a minute or two, then says, "He must have a rich fantasy life."
Great, isn't it? Which leads me to where things lost their fizz a bit for me. There is a conflict involved in the story (naturally) to do with the problem of Sam's mother seriously disliking the Garrett family in general. This conflict did not work for me. Instead of folding neatly into the story, it felt forced. Everything else was humming along so well (see the passage above), and this crisis felt fabricated simply for the sake of having some kind of conflict and resolution. I understand the reasoning, I just felt that in this case the story didn't need it. I would be happy to read about Sam and the Garrett family for ages of pages. When characters are that well drawn, I don't require a flimsy conflict to satisfy my need for drama. Pointless drama aside, MY LIFE NEXT DOOR is a fun and knowing portrait of family, first love, and growing up. With it, it felt needlessly taxing and predictable. I pressed through the last section missing the quiet warmth of the first two-thirds. This will be a quibble (or even a complete non-issue) for many of you, and I still grin widely when I think of a few of the more memorable moments. So if any of this leaves you at all curious, be sure to check it out for yourself when the time comes.