Title: My Life Next Door
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Release date: June 14th 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA; romance
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The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen year old Samantha wishes she was one of them… until the day Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. Jase can sense that his beautiful neighbor is missing something in her sterile home, and as the two fall fiercely in love, his family makes her one of their own. But when the bottom drops out of Sam's world, which perfect family will save her–and will her perfect love survive?My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ever since I first heard about it, I just knew this book would be fabulous. I'm not even sure why, since the description doesn't sound that special, but I'd been getting "Read me! I'm awesome!" vibes from My Life Next Door. Add to that the gorgeous cover and all the swooning reviews it's been getting, and I was sure I was in for something special when I opened the book. And while I did have a few smaller problems with the story, the characters and everything the book ensure My Life Next Door is going straight to the favorites shelf.
Huntley Fitzpatrick's style is great. It's not overly ornate or the most beautiful writing I've ever read, but it's perfect for this story. Her writing made it so easy to get lost in the story; it made the characters come to life. It's the kind of writing that reads incredibly quickly; you don't even notice the time passing while you're reading because you're so absorbed in the story. If I hadn't been reading together with Racquel, I probably would have read My Life Next Door in one sitting - it's that kind of book.
The characters are what make this book so special. The cast of supporting characters is relatively large, but that doesn't mean any of them are underdeveloped. With 8 kids, I thought I'd have trouble telling the Garretts apart, but that is not the case at all. Jase is swoonworthy, the perfect love interest. Racquel criticized that Jase is too perfect, but I didn't really see it that way - I couldn't get over how much I loved him. And George - oh, George. He is the single most adorable kid the (fictional) world has ever seen. I know it's easy to get a lot of people to love little kids as book characters, so me loving George might not mean that much. But even though I'm not always convinced by little-kid-cuteness, Huntely Fitzpatrick totally got me with George. Those two characters are the obvious choices, the ones everyone will love, but that doesn't mean the rest of the Garretts are any less interesting. Alice, Andy and Patsy are all made of awesome, and I would have loved to see even more of Joel. Each member of the Garrett family, including the parents, has a distinct personality - they feel less like fictional characters and more like people I know in real life. Then there's the non-Garrett secondary characters, out of which my favorite would have to be Tim. In the beginning, I was fearing him to be some kind of stock character, the necessary bad-boy-ish, "show the kids how drugs can mess up your life" kind of character, but that is so not the case. Tim has his own story to tell, and I love that he got to play such an important role in My Life Next Door because he is complex and awesome and I just loved reading about him.
The only character I wasn't completely in love with, sadly, was Samantha. She's not a bad character, but she felt a little flat to me. I wanted her to show more emotion, more personality, in quite a few scenes. I get that's kind of the point, but her Little Miss Perfect attitude annoyed me a little. Sam is beautiful, smart, always does the right thing, and has an endless number of talents, including being a great swimmer, knowing everything there is to know about astrology, and having a way with the younger Garretts. I want characters to have flaws, to show weaknesses and insecurities, and I didn't get that from Samantha. That's not to say I didn't like her at all - I didn't have huge issues with her, and it didn't take much from my overall reading experience. But I didn't love Sam like I wanted to.
I've heard a few people say they didn't like the big twist, but I for one loved it. I did not see it coming at all, and the set-up is definitely original. I love how this twist put all of Sam's relationships to the test - it was great to read about how each storyline was affected by this. I especially liked Sam's relationship with her mom during this time - it had felt a little flat to me in the beginning, but the problems they have towards the end of the book really made me understand their relationship.
One storyline I did not like as much is Sam's friendship with Nan. I can't say too much about that without spoiling anything, but I really wish that would have been developed more. The changes in their relationship felt drastic and a little unrealistic to me, and I would have preferred a more subtle and nuanced way of developing the issues these two have.
But despite all those other storylines, My Life Next Door is, at its heart, a romance. I hadn't read a straight-up romance for a while, and this book definitely filled that void. In the beginning, I was fearing insta-love - I found it a little strange how Jase and Sam had been neighbors for so long without ever seeing each other, and how suddenly, when the story starts, they see each other all the time. But once I got over that, I loved Sam and Jase together - I was so wrong for thinking it was insta-love in the beginning. The way the author developed Sam and Jase's relationship is honest and real, and I loved watching their feelings for each other grow.
I know I said quite a few negative things in this review, but really, that's not really what I felt while reading. What I felt was that super-awesome-book-feeling - you know, the one where you're just so happy while reading because a book is exactly the way you want it to be? That feeling is what really stuck with me and made this book so special. I'm sad to have to say goodbye to these characters - I keep hoping for an announcement that there will be companions to My Life Next Door, that Alice, Joel, Andy, Tim, and all the rest of them will get their own stories. But either way, I loved this book, and I'll be reading whatever Huntley Fitzpatrick publishes next, whether it includes these characters or not.