Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Review: My Life Next Door


 Last May, I discovered Epic Reads' map of The United States of YA, which recommends a book for every state, and posted about my intention to read the entire list.  While I have not moved through the list as nearly as quickly as I had hoped, I have kept my eyes peeled for the books on the list during my trips to the library.  Last week, I located a copy of My Life Next Door, the novel for Connecticut, at my local library and checked it out.  Once I started reading, I was hooked from the very first chapter--I simply couldn't put it down.  I carried it around in my purse all week, and any time I got a free moment, I dove back into the story.  It was that good.

My Life Next Door is Huntley Fitzpatrick's debut novel.  I went straight to her website after I finished reading the book, and I need to say that not only did I absolutely love her book, but I also think I love her as a person.  Not only is she a darn good writer, she's also a mother of six.  (And let me tell you, as a mother of four, it took me an entire week to READ this book, so I am wowed and amazed by the fact that she was able to WRITE it!)  She also has this great down-to-earth, slightly self-deprecating voice that really resonates with me.  So if you are reading this review and have ever enjoyed my recommendations on chick lit before, do yourself a favor and run out to your local library or bookstore and get your hands on a copy of My Life Next Door--trust me, you will love it.

The story is told from the perspective of 17-year-old Samantha Reed.  She lives in the idyllic town seaside town of Stony Bay, Connecticut.  From the outside, at least, her life seems pretty perfect.  Samantha attends private school and comes from a wealthy family.  Her mother, Grace Reed, is a state senator running for re-election.  But Grace also expects nothing short of perfection from Samantha, and "kindness" and "love" don't seem to be part of her mothering repertoire (which might explain why her husband left her while she was still pregnant with Samantha...).  Grace is also a judgmental snob, and for the past 10 years, the brunt of her superior attitude has been directed at her next-door neighbors, the Garretts.

The Garretts' lives are far from the well-mannered, systematic, orderly days that Samantha is used to.  For starters, there are just so many of them.  The Garretts have eight children, and they always seem to be doing something interesting.  They're loud, they're messy, they're happy, they're real.  Samantha spends years of her quiet life watching them from the roof outside her bedroom window.  And then, one summer night, Jase Garrett climbs the trellis, settles in next to her, and introduces himself.  And she finds that she can actually talk to him, more easily, truthfully, and naturally than she has ever been able to talk to anyone else.

Jase draws Samantha into the world of the Garretts, and its hard to say who Sam falls in love with first--Jase, or the rest of his family.  As the summer goes by, she comes to love them all fiercely.  And as she examines herself as she is with them, she begins to question and then understand who she really is.  But then an accident occurs, and Samantha must choose where her loyalties truly lie.

Completely random commentary:

....Okay, so I just need to say that when the book jacket warned me that "something unthinkable" would happen, that "the bottom drops out of Samantha's world," and that "she's suddenly faced with an impossible decision," I had a couple of guesses as to where the story was headed.  I had two relatively straightforward and one slightly more off-the-beaten track guesses for what was going to happen.  And to Fitzpatrick's credit, I was enjoying to book so much that I didn't even really care that I was pretty sure it was going to end up being a formula novel.  But then, wham!  Not at all what I was expecting.  What ended up happening was not out of the realm of possibility, and after it happened, I could see how the previous scenes had been building toward it..... but it was definitely not what I had been expecting, and it was definitely not formulaic.  So kudos to you, Huntley Fitzpatrick--nicely done!

Also, Grace Reed: She's a truly crappy mom, and also a gigantic b*tch for most of the book.  But you've got to admit, the woman makes some amazingly good lemonade.  Which is why I was REALLY excited that an internet search revealed Huntley Fitzpatrick's recipe for Grace's Lemonade here.  I am definitely going to make some--you know, on a day that I have a LOT of free time, since apparently her recipe is rather more involved than my usual "dump the powder into the water and stir" method.

And finally, Tim Mason.  This dude was like a time bomb waiting to explode.  He was involved in my off-the-beaten track guess for the crisis waiting to strike Samantha.  I was also half-expecting him to declare his undying love for Samantha at some point... but neither of those things happened.  And with the revelations about Nan and her academics toward the end, I definitely wanted to learn more about their weird relationship.  But to be honest, more than anything, I am a sucker for romance and happy endings, and I wanted him to develop an unlikely romance with Alice.  And while Fitzpatrick did throw us romantics a bone with the smile that Tim and Alice shared over the ice cream toward the end, he really didn't get much of a storyline of his own--which is really too bad, considering how fascinating of a character he is.  So all of this explains why I am so, so excited to see that Tim will be getting his own novel, The Boy Most Likely To, coming in June 2015, which will resolve some of those nagging questions.  You can bet I'll be standing in line to get my hands on that one!