Title: My Life Next Door (2012)
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 394 pages
Release Date: June 14, 2012
“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, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.
As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase’s family embraces Samantha – even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha’s world. She’s suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?
Wow. Wow. I went in expecting fluffy and cute, and while there were definitely some fluffy and cute, I found My Life Next Door to be quite a bit heavier than the cover and title make it seem. It has all the elements of a light-hearted contemporary: Perfect Rich Girl meets Boy Next Door and embarks on a beautiful Forbidden Summer Romance, but Family Drama ensues, breaking them apart, but the characters in this book also deal with alcoholism, family and friendships, people’s perception and judgments, and even the moral distinction between right and wrong. ❤
The first thing I look at in contemporary fiction is the protagonist, and My Life Next Door doesn’t disappoint at all. At first glance, Sam might seem just like any uptight, never-done-anything-wrong YA protagonist, but I found a surprising depth to her that I really enjoyed. She was easily my favourite character from the whole book, and seeing her develop over time was just immeasurably satisfying.
“It has nothing to do with how things look from far away and everything to do with how they are up close. That won’t change.”
Jase, the literal boy-next-door love interest, was also really likeable. He was kind, charming, respectful, responsible and very brotherly, an all-around good guy — a nice change from all the bad boys I’ve been reading about in contemporary YA. I absolutely loved seeing his relationship with Sam grow and how he was so attentive to her wants and needs.
There’s definitely an element of forbidden romance here, with Sam’s mum really disliking Jase’s family and literally forbidding them from seeing each other, but their relationship was one of the healthiest fictional teenage relationships I’ve ever seen. Jase was utterly respectful and never once pushed Sam to do anything she didn’t want to and wasn’t ready for, and Sam was just completely understanding and fully encouraged Jase to pursue what makes him happy.
It’s rare for me to like a couple more after they got together, but I really did with Sam and Jase — I loved their couple interactions more than the flirty, will-they-won’t-they banter (although I enjoyed that too). This is easily one of my favourite things about My Life Next Door: it portrays a healthy and balanced teenaged relationship that still feels, you know, teenaged. There’s drama but for once, the characters actually communicate, which then helps solve the problem. It’s magic!
“You have to kiss me,” I find myself saying.
“Yeah.” He leans closer. “I do.”
As a side note, it’s probably the first time I read a contemporary YA novel in which the main male love interest is [spoiler] a virgin. Maybe I’ve just been reading certain types of books, but they tend to be written as really experienced and 100% able to give the female protagonist a good time, which does not reflect real life at all. [/end spoiler] I found Jase’s struggle with this and his want to ensure that Sam is happy really realistic and refreshing, so more props to Fitzpatrick for that. Yay to healthy relationships!
Second side note here: I did not like Sam’s mum at all, but I appreciate that she was in the story, because people like her are everywhere in the world, and chances are, some of them are actually parents. These people care so much about how they’re perceived by others that they, in turn, also judge by what they can see. These people are selfish, incredibly so, and willing to step on others if it takes them where they want to be. And guess what lessons they try to teach their kids? The same ones.
“The right thing to do is so easy to see when you’re seventeen years old and don’t have to make any big decisions. When you know that no matter what you do, someone will take care of you and fix everything. But when you’re grown up, the world is not that black and white, and the right thing doesn’t a tidy little arrow pointing to it.”
This book made me feel, mostly due to the fact that I really cared about Sam and her story. There were certain moments in the book where I really feared for her, not in that life-or-death kind of way but in that ‘oh no how will things ever be okay again???’ kind of way. There were also certain moments, other moments, where I really cheered for her and was very proud of who she’s become. She was strong and brave and did the right thing multiple times even when the right thing wasn’t easy. It’s natural to root for a protagonist that’s so likeable, and Sam is certainly that.
Character-driven and utterly engaging from start to finish, My Life Next Door is equipped with a protagonist you can’t help but to root for, a crush-worthy, actually good love interest, and realistic, non-teen drama that tugs at the heartstrings. Don’t dismiss it as a light-hearted contemporary romance the way I did when I first saw the cover — I’m certainly kicking myself for it now! 🙂