For me, My Life Next Door has been one of those novels you see floating around, universally liked, not unreasonably hyped, but…for some reason or another, a book that never gets picked up. Huntley Fitzpatrick’s debut always seemed like something I’d like, but I kept putting it off. My current summer reading project gave me the impetus I needed to finally crack the cover.
Samantha has spent most of her life peeking in on the Garretts, who live next door. Their house looks kind of trashy, and every few years, Mrs. Garrett has another baby—she’s up to eight kids at the start of the book. Samantha’s mother, a wealthy blueblood politician, looks down on the Garretts, but when Samantha meets Jase Garrett and is sucked into the world of Next Door, she thinks maybe her mother is wrong.
The first thing that stands out with this book is how realistic it is, especially in terms of first love and sex—especially sex. I’m going to be completely honest and say I have never read a book that dealt with teen sex so well. Ever. (Spoiler alert: Samantha and Jase have sex, in case you hadn’t gathered that.) The two romantic interests discuss having sex beforehand, Samantha mulls it over in her head and is understandably nervous, they buy condoms together beforehand, and when they do have sex after (having discussed it and thought it over for a while), it’s awkward and messy and not, you know, butterflies and rainbows, etc. I was unbelievably impressed with that aspect of My Life Next Door. Actually, I think it was the best part; young adult fiction needs more portrayals of sexuality like this one. Bravo, Ms Fitzpatrick. Bravo!
Aside from that, I think that overall, this book is just good. The story and characters are really likable, and it’s funny. There was one scene in particular that made me cackle (yes, cackle) for a good five minutes. And even though the main focus of the book is on Samantha and Jase’s romance, that’s not all. I loved the themes of friendship, family—especially family. My Life Next Door is mostly a light read, but Fitzpatrick didn’t shy away from the tough issues when they come up.
As characters, I enjoyed Samantha and Jase a lot. They were both well-rounded people who made sense together, whose actions and reactions seemed plausible in given situations. The definite highlight for me was Jase’s seven siblings, because they were adorable and realistic and definitely felt like a real family to me. Samantha’s best friend Nan, and especially Nan’s older brother Tim, played a big role as well, and I liked watching the shifting dynamic between Samantha and her friends.
Overall, My Life Next Door is a really good book. It’s a romance with something on the side, which worked well for me. Fitzpatrick’s portrayal of romance (no instalove) and sex (omg, amazing!) would have won me over even if the rest of the book sucked. The fact that the rest of the book was actually rather awesome made it all better.
Why I Loved It: It breaks my heart that I didn't read this first when I was approved for a NetGalley copy. Life got busy and so on, sob story, and moving on. There was a review of it a couple weeks ago that I saw, full of raving compliments which then led me to Goodreads, also full of raving reviews. I knew then that it was time to read this book. And so it began.
First off, the book meets all the hype head on with confident swagger. *Yes, that is possible* I mean the book just oozes confidence. It's good and it knows it. There is nothing more attractive than confidence. *Hence my unhealthy attraction to fictional bad-boy characters*
Sam, daughter of a wealthy state senator, meets the not-so-typical boy next door that lacks some of that wealth. They come from completely different backgrounds, her's from a life with a huge void and his from a home full of love and life. She is one of two children *many times feeling like the only one* and he is one of eight. EIGHT! Now I know a family of seven going on eight kids, so I can say that the author got the family dynamics completely right, though the family I know is a lot more conservative. So minus the crazy hair dye, motorcycle, and the lack of girls in the room restrictions, I have seen this type of family in action. The reality of the family is definitely helped by the fact that the author has six children. That sounds so fun.
My favorite part of the book wasn't the love story. It was Sam's interaction with Jace's family. In all honesty, it was the huge sense of family all throughout the book that drew me in. It's amazing how the absence of that type of love and devotion we only get from our families was filled in a small way by each member of Jace's family in Sam's heart.
Now my issue, which I am prepared to receive all kinds of criticism and eye rolls for, is that I did not like how fast Jace and Sam's relationship went. Call me old-fashioned, because I am, but buying condoms with a boy she only knew for about a month is a little crazy. I know it's a book, but gah that seems fast for someone as level-headed as Jace was. Anyways, it bugged me. Otherwise I loved Jace. He was thoughtful, loved fixing things, and he had the heart that Sam needed. My other tiny concern was that I wished for more resolution. What happens with Jace and college, Jace's dad, and Sam with the swim team?
I loved how the characters were totally turned around at times. It was interesting to see which one of the twins ended up being there for Sam. The author will make you love, hate, and laugh. For a moment, you will long for a big family.