I’ve been on a YA binge for the past few months and this was a book I couldn’t wait to read. It’s one of those stories that sound like the perfect mix between YA and Contemporary Romance. I loved the idea of a girl longing to belong to the messy family next door, I also wanted to know what was going on with that “impossible decision” that may break them apart. So I got it and while I didn’t think it was bad, I thought the overall story was disappointing.
Samantha Reed’s family consists of a sister and their mother. Their life is orderly and perfect, as long as you don’t look too closely. Their mother is a snob and criticizes everything but herself, because if she saw how flawed she was, she would have kept her mouth shut about everyone else. In order to please her mother, Samantha behaves and does everything she’s told. But she longs for a different life, a life that closely resembles that of her next door neighbors.
The Garrets are a huge family. I can’t remember how many kids they have, but it’s a lot. The mother is always pregnant or nursing a baby, the kids are loud and the house a mess. But it’s obvious that they are very happy, something Samantha is not. So for years she’s been looking at their hose through her bedroom’s window, wondering how it would be to have a family like that. But when Jase Garrett catches Samantha’s eye and he invites her into his home, family and heart, her life, and everyone else’s, changes. Or maybe not so much – What really happens is that they fall in love, are cute and secretive, and nothing really happens until the very, very end, when the regular contrived plot device is brought to create some conflict and help the heroine find her backbone.
This book appeared to have all the key ingredients of a great book, and in fact, it does have them. The problem was the execution and that I was never fully engaged by the story, even though it had some charming characters -including the wonderful hero- and a sweet romance.
I found Samantha to be quite passive. She was aware that the perfection her mother demanded wasn’t perfect at all, and she was unhappy and unsatisfied with her life. Yet, she was unwilling to do anything to change things. Chance brings her together with a boy and a family she’s been spying on, and fantasizing about for years; chance makes her find the courage to confront her mother; chance makes her decide if keeping the boy it’s worth jeopardizing her relationship with her mother. There’s a lot of introspection and self-awareness on her part, but not much action. So that passiveness made it impossible for me to connect and care about her. She could have been a wonderful heroine, but ended up being a flat character.
The best part about the book was Jase. He was sweet, caring, romantic, smart, athletic, hard-working, etc. He was so perfect, that he not once resented his parents for rivaling the Duggars in the baby department, even though they obviously couldn't afford them. How do I know they couldn’t afford them? Jase was desperate to get a scholarship because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to go to college, he probably won’t get it, because he’s just not as good as his brother. And yet, he’s mildly sad about it, fiercely protective of his parents’ right to keep having babies, and not once he was even a bit envious of the brother, or angry at his parents. I found this weird, and a missed opportunity to add depth and complexity to a character that regardless of his charm needed a bit more.
Of the secondary characters, Samantha’s friends were the most interesting, and I found them more complex and layered than the actual leads. But they were wasted in a story that didn’t keep my attention. The plot developments that lead towards that “impossible decision” the blurb hints at, happens at the very end and were just external circumstances to force Samantha into action because she didn’t have the backbone to make her own decisions.
I think the book was lacking in focus and perhaps too long. I really enjoyed the romance, the Garrets and Ms. Fitzpatrick’s voice. My Life Next Door is an awkward story with a lot of potential that unfortunately didn't work for me. I had great hopes, but alas, it was not meant to be. Maybe next time.
Review by Brie
Sensuality: McDreamy (there is sex, and it’s more than hinted at, not enough to be a McSexy, but close)
A gorgeous debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.
“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?A dreamy summer read, full of characters who stay with you long after the story is over.
Dial. June 14, 2009