Samantha Reed seems to have everything – the perfect grade point average, a beautiful home, a rich and successful mother, a perfect figure, and gorgeous genes. Yet, what no one else seems to see is that her mother is hardly a mother – she vacuums obsessively and has been aloof, strict, and apart ever since Sam’s father abandoned their family before she was even born. Thus, Sam cannot help but gaze wistfully at her neighbors, the Garretts, who have eight children, seem to be broke, and yet have all the happiness in the world. When Jase, the third eldest Garrett child, introduces himself to Samantha, her dream of becoming part of their life comes true. Samantha couldn’t be happier – until that is, her senator mother makes a grave mistake that could destroy her newfound happiness and love.
I’m not going to lie – I was quite impressed by this story at first. Samantha was an interesting protagonist, one who was suffering underneath her perfect disguise, yet she never let that get in the way of her interactions with others. She constantly tried to be the perfect daughter, the perfect neighbor, the perfect best friend, the perfect girlfriend, and I think that is something everyone can relate to. Yet, Samantha paled in comparison to the Garretts. In some ways, this novel reminded me of Cheaper by the Dozen – two loving parents with a large family of children do their best to make it work. Furthermore, these kids, despite their vastly different personalities, all love one another and seem to mesh perfectly as siblings. Seeing Samantha fit into this equation was nothing short of entertaining and only increased my respect for her.
In addition to the Garretts though, another family that played a huge part in this novel was Sam’s best friend Nan and her brother Tim. Sam has grown up with these two since childhood and I loved how realistically their relationships were portrayed – well, in the first half of the novel. Usually, authors never give too much emphasis to the best friend, but Nan was given a lot of importance in this story, which I liked – especially because a friend’s problems, their life, and their struggles impact your life as well. Furthermore, Tim, Nan’s older brother, undergoes immense growth and change throughout this novel as well as being one hell of an intelligent, sassy, and funny guy – all qualities which instantaneously made him my favorite character. Although I loved Jase, the main love interest, Tim was simply so much more. Jase is kind, polite, and perfect to the point where he has no flaws. He is an attentive boyfriend, a doting son, an inspirting brother, and an adoring child in general. Sam’s relationship with Jase was cute, fun, and likeable. They had their awkward moments, their gradual growth, and their eventual path to love. I liked all of these things, but somewhere after the half-way point of this book, everything began to go downhill.
First and foremost, one of the main issues that can be seen even from the beginning of the novel is the fact that Sam’s mother hates Jase’s family. She thinks they’re too big and she despises that since her own unreliable husband came from a family just like theirs. So of course, when Sam becomes involved with Jase her mother doesn’t know about it and surprisingly enough neither does Sam’s best friend. Logically speaking, this should have been a big problem in the story. Jase should have been very upset by this, he should have seriously questioned Sam’s feelings for him, but he didn’t, because you know, Jase is just such a sweet and forgiving guy. Is this realistic? No, not even close. Strike #1
Although Problem #1 bothered me, I was able to let it go and trudge onwards with the story to Problem #2. This is a friendship problem with Nan – one which, in my opinion, was original, different, and really interesting. I wanted to see how this played out! I was curious, I was excited – uniqueness in YA Contemporary Fiction? It was unheard of! Yet, what winds up happening in this situation is that Nan refuses to speak to Sam and even after Sam finally gets the backbone and guts to force Nan to speak to her, they have a short conversation and end their friendship of twelve years just like that. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t walk away from my best friend of twelve years that easily. I let it go though, I kept thinking it would come up later, that it would be resolved eventually. Spoiler Alert: That eventual closure we’re waiting for? It doesn’t happen. Sam doesn’t even get to say her perspective of the issue in fact! She just listens to Nan, nods, walks away, and Nan is never mentioned ever again. Irritating? Yes. Unrealistic? Yes. Strike #2? Yes.
If you haven’t already figured out so far, Samantha has some serious issues – not only in her life, but with her personality as well. Most importantly, she has no backbone. A Gryffindor she most certainly is not. She lacks the courage to tell her mom about her perfect boyfriend, she lacks the courage to salvage her friendship with Nan, but the last straw comes when she lacks the courage to do what is right. This is a spoiler-free review (for the most part), so all I can really say is that her mother does something bad – really bad – and it affects the Garretts, who are poor and struggling to make ends meet, in a really bad way. Samantha knows that her mother is responsible for this act that is causing the Garretts to suffer, but no one else knows about it, so what should she do? Well, first of all, she should tell her boyfriend. What she does do instead though, is tell herself that what she thinks isn’t true – denial. I’m not heartless, so I can accept denial, but not for eight days (or a week…something like that)! Plus, even after that eight days, when she finally accepts it’s true, she still doesn’t tell Jase! This entire situation plays out in such a ridiculous manner that it is not even funny. Sam’s mother is Senator Reed, running for re-election, so the truth can’t com out because of her campaign, but you know what? I don’t care. Everyone is raised with a moral sense of right from wrong and the decisions Sam and her mother make are wrong, irritating, and disappointing. Of course this situation all solves itself up very nicely, but I hated its entire presence in the novel. Not only does it take up the entire second half of the novel, it ruins it. Strike #3
Avid baseball fans (or not-baseball-fans like me) will know that after three strikes, you are out and boy, was this book out – out of my shelf, out of my life, out. What upsets me the most though, is that this book had a lot of potential. It had unique and original ideas, but its execution of them was disappointing and lacking. I think the author’s intention was for this novel to be an expose about how a girl who seems to have everything together really doesn’t. How she makes mistakes, loses friends and her life falls apart. Well, Sam’s life did fall apart, but that was because of stupid mistakes, idiotic decisions, and loss of a brain for eight days. I suppose some may argue that that is life, it is realistic, but if you read this book you’ll know that these situations and the way they were handled were not realistic. Furthermore, Sam’s sister was only in this novel for 2% of it which was a huge mistake. I kept thinking of how things would have been different if Sam’s sister was there and I think it would have been a stronger novel if her relationship with her sister was allowed to develop.
Gosh, that brings me to another problem! There was no development of relationships in this novel except between Sam and the Garretts and Tim with…well everyone because he’s just awesome like that. Even by the end of the novel, Sam’s mother felt like the same Crappy Mom of the Decade since she was being a selfish pig. Furthermore, I haven’t even mention Supreme Villain of All Time, Clay. Clay is a douche bag, an idiot, a guy with the wrong priorities and he also happens to be Senator Reed’s boyfriend. *cue gag* I don’t want to talk about him, I hate him, and all you need to know is that he sucks.
My Life Next Door is a novel with a lot of potential, a lot of hope, and a lot of disappointment. The first half of this book is sweet, caring, and fun but then it just becomes strike after strike after strike. After reading it, I can’t even say that I liked it. If anything, I feel as if I wasted a huge chunk of my time. Looking back, I don’t even feel that invested in Sam and Jase’s relationship since Jase was so perfect and Sam was so unworthy of him and any problems they had weren’t even dealt with in a realistic and proper manner. *sigh* I’m sorry to say that My Life Next Door goes right back on my shelf of disappointing debuts. Fitzpatrick had some great ideas in this one, but everything just fell flat in the end. Perhaps a more experienced author would have been better suited to write such a complex novel, but Fitzpatrick was simply unable to handle the plethora of scenarios in this one. That being said…I. Am. Out.
You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings