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?
I’ve been sitting here, transfixed by a blinking cursor, for three, four minutes, trying to figure out how to write about this book, which, all told, I thoroughly enjoyed. And, beyond that, wrestling with how to phrase the explanation that must follow, the reasons why I loved it and the minor caveats that bear mentioning. I guess this opening gambit will have to do. As for the rest…
On my radar for a good, long while, my interest in My Life Next Door jumped the fence into must-read territory after snagging on a single line in Angie’s review of the title: “this book does have a romance in possession of the kind of heat you do not want to miss.” That – and the comparisons being drawn to Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss – made a promising story absolutely irresistible. While I believe Perkins’ novel is a bird of a different color – albeit maybe in the same family – I am oh, so glad I took heed of the comparison and listened to Angie, because any book that makes me stop reading to immediately reread is one not to be missed.
It would be absurd to claim that I responded so favorably to this novel because of the fact that, at its heart, it’s about a girl whose coming of age was stalled, pushed back by a mother with tight hands on the rope and the girl’s own inclination to be towed along. It wouldn’t be a lie, per se. After all, I got Samantha. Certain aspects of her character and life: painfully so. But, no, it wasn’t the character that resonated; it wasn’t the charming family living next door to her (though, George? [Er, George is one of the youngest members of the Garrett brood.] I want a book about you all grown up, because you are going to be something).
It was Samantha and Jase, the palpable heat between them, the way their relationship engaged my emotions so completely, and that I actually, honest-to-goodness sighed while reading.
To go into too much detail would be to potentially spoil the experience; I can’t do that. So I’m not going to include excerpts, though my fingers itch with the desire to type out one or two, and I’m not going to say anything more about Jase except yes, please. I will, however, point out that there are at least two types of angst: delicious angst, the kind that pokes the balloons swaying in your stomach, releasing a wash of emotion that prompts your eyes to track back over the words to read them again, hoping the sensation can and will be duplicated; then there’s enough-already angst, the kind that’s uncomfortable or forced, dropped into the story like a bomb, detonating unnecessary drama. When it comes to the relationship in this book, the only angst you’ll experience is that first kind, and oh, my. Just…yes.
I was also engaged by a subplot involving Tim, a childhood friend of Samantha’s, who is tangled in a web of addiction and bound by a spiral of bad choices. Is his story thread predictable? Yes. But the thing about Tim is that his character works; I cared, despite knowing how his story was going to play out, and so his inevitable redemption still managed to be gratifying. Besides, there’s something about him. Take this memorable moment as a for instance:
“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to this kid? That is one fucked up story. How is that a book for babies?”
Jase laughs. “I thought it was about babysitting.”
“Hell, no, it’s addiction. That friggin’ mouse is never satisfied. You give him one thing, he wants something else, and then he asks for more and on and on and on. Fucked up. Patsy liked it, though. Fifty thousand times.” Tim yawns, and Patsy snuggles more comfortably onto his chest, grabbing a handful of shirt. “So what’s doin’?”
Now, about those caveats. Again, too much detail, in this case, is not a good thing, so I’ll just say this: I had a problem with Samantha’s best friend, how that plot line progressed (and also said best friend’s use of “mommy” and “daddy” without a trace of sarcasm [could be that I'm out of touch, but I wasn't aware that sixteen/seventeen-year-olds still called their parents that]); and I was a bit disappointed in the catalyst for Samantha’s growth, that it took something so extreme to shake her up, to get her to shrug off her indifferent attitude towards her mother’s control and take it back. Those are subjective issues, sure, but I wanted to make it clear that the book isn’t all roses, even if the romance is heady and sweet.
Samantha and Jase made a home under my skin, and I’m actually loathe to give up the library copy I read for wanting to keep them close. So, yes, a trip to the book store is in my immediate future. Because My Life Next Door? For this reader, it’s a keeper.