My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick 
Publication Date
: June 14, 2012
Publisher: Dial Books
Pages: 395
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords
: Young love, next door neighbors, traumatic event
Source: eBook received from NetGalley for review.

Summary: Sam has watched the Garrett family from her rooftop for ten years. Her mother has kept her at a distant from the large, chaotic family, but once she begins running for political office, she loosens her tight grip on Samantha. One evening Jase climbs up the trellis to Sam’s rooftop and the two quickly become friends.

I’m going to sound incredibly hypocritical when I admit this to you guys, but here goes nothin’. I have been anxious to read Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door since I saw the cover. I had visions of a great girl falling in love with her swoon-worthy next door neighbor. And oh, did this book deliver one heck of story when it came to that. What I didn’t expect were the million other amazing details that made me fall even more in love with Samantha and Jase.

Ten years ago, Jase’s (rather large) family moved next door to Samantha. For ten years, Sam has listened to her mother harp about how many children the Garrett’s have, how incapable they are of keeping up their house, how atrocious it is that they have toys scattered all over their lawn (and on and on and on). During those years Sam’s secretly watched the family from afar, intrigued by them. One night Jase climbs up the trellis of Sam’s house to keep her company; the two become fast friends and the barrier between Sam and the Garrett family crumbles to pieces.

Sam balances a fine line between making her uptight mother happy and falling in love with the boy next door. Her mother’s overprotectiveness drove me crazy but her outright ignorance for what a d-bag her new political campaign advisor, Clay, (who doubles as her boy toy) was really left me speechless. I often find myself cringing when teens make bad decisions and go against their parents wishes, but in Sam’s case, I was delighted she was finally breaking the mold her mother had so firmly cast around her. Sam is responsible to a fault – it’s summertime and she’s working two jobs and trying to help her friend Tim kick his drug habit and taking an SAT prep class with her friend Nan. Busy much? I think it’s safe to say that Sam needed a little excitement in her life.

One of the most beautiful aspects of My Life Next Door was watching Sam and Jase fall in love. Their relationship was an exploration of honest teenage emotions that relate to sex and experiencing so many things for the first time. Fitzpatrick approached this topic with such authenticity and tenderness. But not without a hefty amount of steaminess, mind you. So many of Sam’s internal dialogues conjured up questions and feelings my seventeen-year-old self also felt or thought.

Add in little side-helpings of Jase’s crazy, enormous, chaotic family and Sam’s friend, Tim, who needs all the help he can get kicking his drug dependency and you’ve got a lot of people to fall in love with. Fitzpatrick doesn’t just make us fall in love with her main characters – she gives us siblings with adorable quirks and unique fears. She makes us laugh when Sam adopts “Super Sailorgirl” as her super hero nickname. We understand the complexities of Tim and how flawed he and his sister Nan are. With so many people swiftly moving in an out of this story, Fitzpatrick does an incredible job of making us understand each and every one of them to grasp the big picture.

Everything in the story progresses beautifully until a very big event occurs. It’s a game changer. A curveball. A punch in the gut.

The best comparison I can offer is Looking for Alaska by John Green. If you’ve read this book, you’re aware that there’s a rather large event that changes the course and tone of the book. It takes the reader by complete surprise. The happy-go-lucky feel of the book suddenly becomes much heavier and depressing. While the event is not the same in My Life Next Door, I did have the same feelings as the result of the turn of events. My emotions became even more wrapped up in the story and I probably appeared more than a little agitated to all the passengers aboard my same flight that day. The pacing intensified as I waited for everything to implode – so many loose ends, so much drama, so much pain.

While I wholeheartedly believe this is a book you must read, there were a couple of details that I wish had been further explored. Perhaps a few more pages would have granted me the peace I was seeking after such a big event. I do recommend that you have a friend on standby who has read My Life Next Door because if I hadn’t had my pals Estelle and Ginger, I think I would’ve gone crazy.

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Estelle: Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (website | twitter)
UPCOMING Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Pages: 354
Target audience: Mature young adult
Format read: Netgalley eBook

Summary:  Tripp and Allie seemed like the perfect couple to the whole world but there was another layer to their relationship that no one knew about. When Tripp dies in a car accident (one that Allie is also injured in), she hopes to keep all her bad memories with Tripp buried. But his presence just seems to get stronger and stronger, especially after she starts getting notes in her locker in his handwriting. Will she ever be able to let go?

I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past my bedtime to finish a book. It was probably five years ago when I was still in college. At least. So the fact that I stayed up way past midnight on a weeknight to finish Breaking Beautiful (on the same day I started it) should mean something. It should mean a lot. (Because as if that wasn’t enough, it kept me up for another half hour thinking about it.)

A book with this kind of premise could easily turn into a Lifetime movie, soaking in cliché. In fact, after reading other reviews, this was my fear. Getting hooked on a book was one thing but I wanted it to be because the story was actually good, not because it was like a train wreck I couldn’t peel my eyes away from.

I’m happy to say it did not cross into the realm of Lifetime television but did a solid job of exploring some tough themes without much sugar coating or fairy tale endings.

Who knows? Maybe I’ve had the pleasure of knowing people who are repeatedly dealt blows by life but I had no problem believing Allie could have experienced all of these hardships in real life: an abusive relationship, bullying, a car accident that killed her boyfriend (a night she has totally blocked out of her memory), and a disabled twin brother – sure, it’s a lot. But Allie’s reactions to all of these situations were reasonable and realistic. She had good things in her life too – an old friend named Blake and a super close relationship with her brother, Andrew. It’s no surprise that her “hidden life” has clouded those good things. She is constantly questioning her own worth and who wouldn’t after the boyfriend you loved (and you believed loved you back) treated you with such cruelty?

As a reader, it is so frustrating to watch as Allie lies, covers up, avoids, and hides when she could be telling the truth. That frustration we feel means that the author is doing a killer job at making us feeling exactly what Allie is going through, and most importantly, those around her who care just want her to get better and be happy again.

One of the book’s main themes is control. Tripp’s parents are rich and have a lot of clout (too much) on the small town. So there’s that and Allie’s desperation to take control of her life, the lack of physical control her brother may have, and the power Tripp’s ghost and their memories have on Allie as she attempts to move on. Control is a funny thing. Everyone wants it and when they get it, there is no telling what might happen. Some may even surprise you.

In a way, this book is part mystery. We discover the events of the accident along with Allie as she is able to remember and confront more of her demons. Until the end, I did not find the revealed events to be predictable at all. The author did a commendable job of weaving memories with the present day and also keeping the suspense and tension high. (And this is why I needed a caffeine drip the morning after I finished it.)

I’m not going to lie. Many of the events in this book are terrifying. The helplessness that Allie feels, her mom’s allegiance to Tripp’s family and her legacy to the town, the utter desperation so many of these characters feel. Even once I hit the last page, that desperation and fear felt like it was haunting me. Breaking Beautiful reveals the bleakest depths of the human spirit and the not so pretty process it takes to get back to feeling like you. And we can’t go around ignoring that the bad exists.

I hope Shaw is busy at work on her next book, because after reading Breaking Beautiful, it will certainly make its way on my list.

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