Samantha Reed has always watched the Garretts next door. They represent everything foreign to her: a large, loud, messy family who is affectionate and present for one another. She has always wished to be part of them. One night, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and invites her over. As thet two fall into a powerful first love, Samantha begins to experience what it’s like to be part of the Garrett clan. When things go horribly awry, Samantha is faced with a tough choice and has to decide between her two families.
This book was nearly perfect. As far as contemporary YA novels go, this one is going to shoot straight to the top of the heap. Despite disagreeing with the Stephanie Perkins-comparisons (people, when will we learn?), this book warmed my shriveled little heart and is a contender for the best book of the summer.
For a novel with a fairly wide cast of characters, Fitzpatrick does a pretty nice job of establishing most of the important people. Samantha is remarkably well-drawn, with a consistently authentic voice. While Jase is slightly less-developed as a character, he doesn’t feel cardboard-y or like a stock character. Samantha’s best friend Nan and her twin brother Tim are both flawed, sympathetic characters as well. Jase’s family is full of quirky, memorable characters, and Fitzpatrick excels at writing the voices of children. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the Garretts as Samantha has done by watching them over the years. They’re big and messy and totally charming.
Unfortunately, the argument could be made that Fitzpatrick introduces too many characters. While I was able to keep the cast straight, there were some characters who suffered from a lack of characterization as a result. This was especially present in the case of Sam’s mother’s boyfriend Clay, and to a lesser extent, Sam’s mother herself. Both of these characters felt too much like stereotypes, and the events in the last third of the book feel almost forced as a result.
Which brings me to the book’s biggest sticking point: Samantha’s mother hates the Garretts but has no real reason to do so. Her dislike of the family is supposed to propel much of the book’s narrative, but it doesn’t ever feel authentic so much as a plot contrivance to create conflict. Most readers will be willing to overlook this, because the writing is good, the characters fun, and the chemistry between Jase and Samantha strong. This is a contemporary romance with substance, and the attraction between Jase and Samantha crackles off the page. It’s swoon-worthy, to be sure.
Definitely worth a read. This is one worth buying, as it’s likely to elicit re-reads. Highly recommended.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. Dial: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.