“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?
Tell Me More: The boy-next-door has always been one of my favourite tropes in literature and film, so it won’t come as a surprise that I wanted to read this book immediately after I heard about it. In fact, I even dedicated a Waiting on Wednesday post to talking about this book. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about that synopsis that assured me I would love Samantha’s story, and thankfully, I was right.
Samantha Reed is a wonderful character, layered with very real insecurities and doubts. Fitzpatrick’s careful reveal of Samantha’s family life is necessary to the integrity of the book, and it allows the reader to make their own conclusions about Samantha’s decisions. Fitzpatrick doesn’t ever excuse her characters for the things they do, but neither does she convict them unfairly. I loved the way the author handled the mother-daughter relationship without reducing it to a tired cliche–even as I grew annoyed with how her mother treated Samantha, I wanted them to fix things and love each other.
The idea of love reveals itself as a main theme in My Life Next Door, though maybe not in ways you would expect. There’s Exhibit A: the love of and within a family, as illustrated by the Garretts to great success, though not so much by the Reeds. Exhibit B: the love of power and ambition, as illustrated by Clay Tucker, and Grace Reed to a lesser extent. Exhibit C: love in a friendship, as shown through Nan and Tim’s respective relationships with Samantha. And lastly, Exhibit D: the love between two young people.
I thought Exhibits A and B were done extremely well in this book. The saying “It’s lonely at the top” popped into my head multiple times as I read about Grace Reed’s attempts to become a powerful person, with Clay’s “help.” The stark differences between the Reeds and the Garretts were never clearer than in the moment when Samantha realizes how far her mother was willing to go to feel good and confident about herself. Instead of finding strength and joy in her family, Grace Reed falters and places her faith in a man who admits to always backing the highest bidder. Samantha faces the same decisions, and she chooses to love and to heal with the help of people who accept her for who she is. It’s a powerful decision, and one that gives power to Samantha without destroying her integrity. Strangely enough, it reminded me of how Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter insisted that they would go with Harry wherever he needed to go, because they were his best friends. They drew strength and comfort from each other.
Unfortunately, the friendships in this book did not have positive results. Twins Nan and Tim, Samantha’s closest friends, are predictable at the start of the novel–it was very easy to side with smart, confident Nan against loser Tim. But as the novel progressed, I found it extremely gratifying that Tim would turn out to be more than what people assumed he’d be. Teenagers (and adults, for that matter) still make assumptions based on past mistakes and first impressions, and I loved that Fitzpatrick chose to illustrate how people you trust can still betray you, even when they don’t seem like they will. Nan’s fears made her into exactly the kind of person she didn’t want to be, but Tim’s solid decision to do the right thing helped him to become a good person.
The romance between Jase and Samantha is likewise a tale of opposites, but happily, they manage to fix things for the better. Jase was utterly enchanting, almost too perfect at times, but it was just so easy to love him. He was kind without being a saint, and he was understanding and loving towards everyone in his life. He cares for his family with consideration and compassion, and always, always protects them as best as he can. What young man would have the patience to deal with his terrified younger brother or a sister whose first word was poop? That requires a lot of courage, and beyond the physical and emotional appeal of such a character, it’s Jase’s willingness to make the best of everything he has that made me love him completely. He learned from Samantha, even as she learned from him, and I foresee them being very happy together in their imperfections. I don’t want perfect characters. I want real ones, people that make mistakes and get angry and still try their damnedest to be good people and love one another.
The Final Say: My Life Next Door is the perfect summer romance, on par with Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. If you know me, you know that this is the highest compliment I can give a contemporary novel. In the last six months, I haven’t found many novels that can make me stop whatever I’m doing just so I can read, but I wouldn’t give back the three hours I spent savouring this novel for the world.