MY LIFE NEXT DOORHuntley Fitzpatrick
Contemporary Young Adult
Dial Books for Young Readers
Available June 14th
Received through Teen Book Scene for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)“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?
MY THOUGHTSThe pages of My Life Next Door contain more than simple black and white words, juxtaposing the chaotic warmth of a loving environment with the cool detachment hidden by a mask of perfection–two families worlds apart but yet separated by mere feet and a sturdy fence. Both the Garretts and the Reeds could be called the “ideal” family depending on one’s definition of ideal, and it’s fascinating to learn how the view of both from the outside is nothing if not skewed, reflecting none of the joy, pain, love, loss, strength, weakness or truth lingering within. The Garrett family lives in a home—pieces of them infused in the very wood and mortar holding it together–whereas Samantha and her sister and mother reside simply in a house–four walls and a roof all perfectly decorated and absolutely beautiful to those looking superficially—and we as readers are granted the glorious opportunity to follow Samantha as her world and her life are completely redefined.
Sam is quite literally an observer of life rather than someone who actually lives it each day, watching the Garrett family for years as they argue, play, support, and tease one another before returning to her fairly empty existence. Her gradual integration into the Garrett household is beautiful to watch, almost as though we can see the love they radiate flush her cheeks and pebble her skin, continuing to seep into her until she glows with a new confidence and knowledge that she is important and cared for now and always. There are times when she reverts back to her role as observer, watching the madness around her and allowing it control her rather than taking control of it with both hands, but she soon quickly realizes what she’s done and stands up in defense of a new love for Jase and the entire Garrett family as well as a new love for herself.
The romance with Jase is as perfect as any reader and lover of romance could wish it, gradually building and steadily growing without a cliché or common plot device to mar its beauty. Not a single preemptive declaration of love is uttered, no all-consuming attraction exists between them, and no third party enters into their relationship once it’s established; instead we get a sweet and awkward foray into emotional attachment and physical intimacy that has us giggling with glee and sighing in utter satisfaction. While the relationship between Jase and Sam is prominent, the relationships formed with all the secondary characters are exquisitely executed as well, the boisterous members of the Garrett household splitting our hearts into multiple pieces, each family member retaining ownership long after we’ve set the book down (though George’s piece might be the largest).
At times the reading of this tale can be a bit slow, the day to day lives and troubles of the Garrett family not necessarily causing us to flip the pages with record speed, however, there is a tension prevalent that refuses to dissipate, a simple knowing that tragedy is on its way that has us secretly wishing the quiet, simple moments could be drawn out to the fullest extent to allow them all happiness before the darkness rolls in. As hard as we wish we’re unable to keep that darkness at bay, and when it hits, our pain is acute and our anger powerful as the portraits of two very different families are torn to shreds and left in fragments of warm and cool colors that bleed together at our feet. Luckily for us, our beloved characters are stronger than we might have given them credit for in the beginning, and we’re left with the hope that those fragments will slowly find their way back to the whole.