{Review} My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

{Review} My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Think about how it looks, Samantha. Not just how it feels. Make smart choices. Always consider consequences.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Huntley Fitzpatrick’s debut novel, My Life Next Door, has been reviewed quite a bit, so I wasn’t planning on contributing my thoughts on this novel. 

However, while this wasn’t a perfect read for me, there were elements that stuck out to me as “doing it right” where a lot of other contemporary young adult fiction falters.

Samantha’s mother is an up-and-coming state senator in Connecticut. She’s got a bit of a Sarah Palin thing going on, with high fashion, a youthful appearance, marketable rhetoric and daughters that fit her political image perfectly. Her mother is very concerned about appearances, and maintains a perfect house, which stands in stark contrast to the chaotic family of ten next door, the Garretts. 

Samantha spends years fascinated by the Garrett family, with their roudy warmth that’s so different from her own family. Naturally, like all boy next door novels, Samantha meets one of the neighbor boys, Jase. (They don’t go to school together as the Garrett children attend public school and Samantha attends a private school.) And, since her mother’s busy campaigning, Samantha’s able to spend time with Jase without her mother knowing. The two sit on Samantha’s roof (yes, I am a sucker for roof-sitting, which is probably the biggest downside of owning a ranch house—roof sitting is really difficult), hang with Jase’s siblings and develop a relatively quick connection. 

“You have to kiss me,” I find myself saying.

“Yeah.” He leans closer. “I do.” 

This is where I really began to enjoy My Life Next Door: I didn’t have to wait all novel long for the main characters to get together. 

It seems like so many contemporary young adult romances focus on the will they-won’t they question to which there’s a very obvious answer. In this novel, however, we get to see Samantha and Jase’s relationship grow, we get to spend time with them while they fall in love. And, in an oddly enjoyable turn, we get to see them negotiate some of the more mundane, but important, aspects of a mature relationship. 

Jase starts to laugh. “I follow him back and he sits me down and asks if I’m being responsible. Um. With you.”

Moving back into the shade of the bushes, I turn even further away from the possible gaze of Mr. Lennox. “Oh God.”

“I say yeah, we’ve got it handled, it’s fine. But, seriously? I can’t believe he’s asking me this. I mean, Samantha, Jesus. My parents? Hard not to know the facts of life and all in this house. So I tell him that we’re moving slowly and—”

“You told him that?” God, Jase! How am I ever going to look Mr. Garrett in the eye again? Help.

“He’s my dad, Samantha. Yeah. Not that I didn’t want to exit the conversation right away, but still …”

“So what happened then?”

“Well, I reminded him they’d covered that really thoroughly in school, not to mention at home, and we weren’t irresponsible people.” I close my eyes, trying to imagine having this conversation with my mother. Inconceivable. No pun intended.

“So then … he goes on about”—Jase’s voice drops even lower—“um … being considerate and um … mutual pleasure.”

“Oh my God! I would’ve died. What did you say?” I ask, wanting to know even while I’m completely distracted by the thought. Mutual pleasure, huh? What do I know about giving that? What if Shoplifting Lindy had tricks up her sleeve I know nothing about? It’s not like I can ask Mom. “State senator suffers heart attack during conversation with daughter.”

“I said ‘Yes sir’ a lot. And he went on and on and all I could think was that any minute Tim was gonna come in and hear my dad saying things like, ‘Your mom and I find that … blah blah blah.’”

I can’t stop laughing. “He didn’t. He did not mention your mother.”

“I know!” Jase is laughing too. “I mean … you know how close I am to my parents, but … Jesus.”

There’s a great (and another quite funny) scene in My Life Next Door in which Samantha and Jase go to the drugstore—together—to buy condoms. 

This is notable because the awkwardness is quite fantastic and it brings to the forefront an experience that often isn’t addressed in YA novels, at least that I can recall. Most YA is pretty good about ensuring that contraception is acquired, but more often than not it’s magically produced by one of the main characters—usually the guy. It’s discussed and considered and dealt with by both of the people involved. 

Brushing my teeth that night, listening to the sound of a summer rain battering against the windows, I marvel at how quickly things can completely change. A month ago, I was someone who had to put twenty-five unnecessary items—Q-tips and nail polish remover and Seventeen magazine and mascara and hand lotion—on the counter at CVS to distract the clerk from the box of tampons, the one embarrassing item I needed. Tonight I bought condoms, and almost nothing else, with the boy I’m planning to use them with.

The way Fitzpatrick handled all of the issues related to this teen couple and sex was just so well done, and, well, normal—which is a tremendous rarity in young adult novels it seems. Frankly, so much of the Samantha-Jase relationship was normal and healthy, and I’d love to see more of this type of writing in the young adult category. 

In the movies, clothes just melt away when the couple is ready to make love. They’re all golden and backlit with the soundtrack soaring. In real life, it just isn’t like that. Jase has to take off his shirt and fumbles with his belt buckle and I hop around the room pulling off my socks, wondering just how unsexy that is. People in movies don’t even have socks. When Jase pulls off his jeans, change he has in his pocket slips out and clatters and rolls across the floor.

“Sorry!” he says, and we both freeze, even though no one’s home to hear the sound.

In movies, no one ever gets self-conscious at this point, thinking they should have brushed their teeth. In movies, it’s all beautifully choreographed, set to an increasingly dramatic soundtrack.

In movies, when the boy pulls the girl to him when they are both finally undressed, they never bump their teeth together and get embarrassed and have to laugh and try again.

With that said, I found many of the subplots and secondary characters in My Life Next unnecessary. 

There is a fairly substantial subplot regarding the disintegration of Samantha’s relationship with her best friend Nan which did not contribute to the story nor the character development in a significant way. Yes, it showed the lousy side of growing up (along with the good that’s illustrated in the main story), but it’s just didn’t add anything for me. And, there’s not really any resolution to that storyline, leaving me to wonder if a companion novel is planned. (The same can be said for a tiny plot thread involving Nan’s brother—who’s a significant character whose journey I enjoyed—and his flirtation with Jase’s sister. It screamed that it was there to tease for another book.)

The same goes for Samantha’s sister, who is a fairly prominent character at the beginning of My Life Next Door, then leaves for the summer and comes back with some marginally exciting news that didn’t have much, if anything, to do with the rest of the story. Samantha could have been an only child and the story would have been just as strong (if not better, as the contrast between her life and the Garrett children would have been all the most striking). 

Samantha also has two part-time jobs and there are a number of scenes dealing with both. The first is her lifeguarding job at the country club which seemingly only exists to further emphasize the class differences between she and Jase (he and his father deliver lumber while she’s working). The second is her job at a local theme restaurant, which provides comic relief because of her ridiculous uniform. 

“Hi there,” I say. Brilliant opener, Samantha.

Jase props himself up on an elbow, looking at me for a minute without saying anything. His face gets an unreadable expression, and I wish I could take back walking over.

Then he observes, “I’m guessing that’s a uniform.”

Crap. I’d forgotten I was still wearing it. I look down at myself, in my short blue skirt, puffy white sailor blouse, and jaunty red neck scarf.

“Bingo.” I’m completely embarrassed.

He nods, then smiles broadly at me. “It didn’t quite say Samantha Reed to me somehow. Where on earth do you work?” He clears his throat. “And why there?”

“Breakfast Ahoy. Near the dock. I’m saving up for a car.”

“The uniform?”

“My boss designed it.”

Jase scrutinizes me in silence for a minute or two, then says, “He must have a rich fantasy life.”

I also didn’t completely buy the ending/resolution to the Big Thing That Happens that threatens Samantha and Jase’s relationship, though I did buy the ending for the two characters, because I believed in their story. 

Ultimately, My Life Next Door was a mixed bag for me. 

I loved the believable romance and the way the couple’s physical relationship progresses and is handled in a responsible, yet non-messagey, manner. I enjoyed the look into the life of a child of a political animal, and thought there was a lot of truth in the depiction of what it must be like for kids whose parents are more focused on appearance than authenticity.

But, the extraneous elements did make the book drag for me, and so I’d recommend it as an excellent example of a young adult novel that sensitively navigates the complexities of first love, but with the caveat that you will have to wade through some unnecessary “stuff” to get to the story’s real richness. 

FNL Character Rating: Julie Taylor, without the awesome parents. 

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Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley

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