Review: My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2012. Copy provided for review.

The Plot: Samantha Reed’s mother explained to her about the family next door: “There’s one in every neighborhood. The family that never mows their lawn. The toys scattered everywhere.” The message to Sam is clear: stay away from the Garretts.

Sam is fascinated by the Garretts: all the children, the noise, the chaos, so unlike her own tidy home, her perfectionist mother, her in charge sister. She secretly watches them — until one day Jase Garrett climbs the trellis.

The boy next door: Jase. The boy her mother cannot know about. Even Sam’s best friend is disapproving. Jase’s family is welcoming and loving — just like she pictured they would be.

Until something terrible happens. Sam has a choice to make.

The Good: Mrs. Reed’s dislike for the Garretts is clear from the start. They don’t live life as she thinks it should be led: they have too messy a house and yard, they have too many children. Apparently, the family gets that a lot; Jase says his mother’s response to the people is “to pity them, feel sorry for anyone who thinks what they think is right should be some universal law.”

To Sam, the Garretts are interesting and exciting: eight children and married parents, a family without as much money, a family that is warm and loving. Sam’s mother is a cold perfectionist, caring about what the family looks like to outsiders even before she ran (and won) the race for state senator.

Aside from the differences in the two families in terms of money, family size, and socioeconomic background (Mrs. Reed lives quite well off a family trust; Mr. Garrett owns a neighborhood store),  both teens — Sam and Jase — are good kids from good families. It’s important to note, because this is not about a bad boy and a good girl, even though Mrs. Reed as well as some of Sam’s friends  see Jase as “bad” because of exterior factors (how he looks, what he drives, what school he goes to, etc.) It’s about two good teens from different families. And there’s nothing wrong with different.

That said, Mrs. Reed is one piece of work. She believes that appearances do reflect the content, so judges based on that. She’s also not as put-together as she likes to pretend, as shown by her romance with the campaign manager for her re-election. She is reserved and  — oh, forget it. I’ll be blunt. I did not like Mrs. Reed, not at all: she was cold, judgmental, and manipulative. While the ending of the book made sense within the context of the characters involved, I didn’t like it.

I think that Sam should go to university on the opposite side of the country as her mother, and send cards at holidays. Or England, England works. Or South America. I’m not as concerned about what happens to Jase, because he has a family he loves who loves him back. Sam, though — with that mother, I’m worried for her beyond the pages of the book.

Topic: despite my personal feelings towards Samantha’s mother, I really, really loved this book! Samantha and Jase, as I said, are two good teens and I loved that. It’s a great romance of two teens trying to fit together, and the big barrier is Sam’s friends and family and their attitude.It’s the summer before Sam and Jase’s senior year; and this is a romance for older teens. Sam and Jase are the type of teens where they talk about sex before having it and go condom shopping together.

Sam choosing to be with Jase, and how she handles it, is as much about Sam falling for Jase as it is about Sam beginning to establish independence from her family. (And as I may have mentioned…. it’s an independence that MUST be done.)

So, what do you think? Am I being too harsh about Senator Grace Reed?

Other reviews: Galleysmith; Clear Eyes Full Shelves; Novel Thoughts.