Written by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Published June, 2012 by Dial
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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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?
A transporting debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.
I took a plunge into the sea that is my contemporary TBR pile. After reading a heavy historical, and many fantasy stories before that, I was in dire need of some upbeat ‘real life drama’ and My Life Next Door seemed to be the answer. Huntley Fitzpatrick’s 2012 debut is sweet, if not a little plain, and served as a good break for me this month.
“The Garretts were my bedtime story, long before I ever thought I’d be part of the story myself.”
Hold the fireworks, though. My Life Next Door wasn’t exactly amazing compared to some of the other contemporaries I’ve read. Yes, it’s got surprisingly genuine characters and a quaint little Connecticut town, but it never really delivered anything that another book didn’t do better for me. That’s not to say I hated this book – because I didn’t – but it won’t be going down as one of my favourites any time soon.
My Life Next Door has an incredibly adorable and relatable premise. Samantha, coming from a family consisting of a strict mother and a rebellious sister, sees her next door neighbours (the wild, messy and lively Garretts) as a sort of unattainable reality – of what a family should be like. The Garretts are everything her family isn’t – big where hers is small, genuine when hers is fake and most of all – warm where hers is cold. After watching them for years with interest, it’s only now that one of the Garretts – Jase – strikes up the courage to talk to her, and her to him.
What soon unfolds is a sweet (if a little predictable) romance between Jase and Samantha. Sam balances her odd jobs for the summer along with babysitting the Garrett’s numerous children and becomes closer and closer to the family, as well as Jase. Keeping her growing fondness for her next door neighbours would be difficult if her mother were her usual nosy, eagle-eyed self, but this summer she’s too wrapped up in her political campaign and a new, younger boyfriend.
“You’re walking along on this path, dazzled by how perfect it is, how great you feel, and then just a few forks in the road and you are lost in a place so bad you never could have imagined it.”
Samantha as our main character was tolerable – and most importantly, free from teenage whining and the impulse to make stupid decisions – but I never loved her. Jase, too, was alright, but unfortunately what stopped me from really embracing this story was how dry the two seemed to feel at times. I never really got into them as a couple, or individuals. While some of the other Garretts (George, even Patsy) exploded to life within the pages, Sam and Jase, who were meant to be our main characters, constantly fell flat to me.
Some of the other secondary characters – such as Nan and Tim – did absolutely nothing for me. The storyline of Nan’s academic prowess and Tim’s struggles to overcome his bad choices and addiction seemed to detract from the plot rather than add to it. There was just too much going on in the way of background storyline for me. Along with Samantha’s mother’s political campaign, the question of the greasy political guy cheating, Nan and her SAT’s and Tim trying to turn her life around – I was just a bit too distracted to care.
The relationship between Sam and Jase moved quickly, too. There was a bit of chemistry, sure, but after they got together I didn’t feel as invested. This story isn’t so much of a romance as much as a story of Samantha trying to carve out her own path one summer; making her own decisions for the first time.
“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.”
The summary promises a ‘betrayal’, but this aspect only comes into My Life Next Door towards the end. Things got interesting for me here, and I appreciated the climb in pace and was able to finish the book quite quickly after that.
When I reflect on my experience of this book, it wasn’t great – it was just ‘okay’. The writing could’ve been tighter, too. I’m pleased I finally got around to reading this one (and I see it’s sort of a series?) but I don’t feel it lived up to the hype or my expectations. However, I feel Huntley Fitzpatrick will only improve from here and I won’t take reading her other books off the table.