Relationship Role Models is a new, original feature where I highlight YA couples that portray happy, healthy, realistic and/or constructive relationships. I look at what less than desirable YA romantic tropes they don’t subscribe too, how they function, and how they example healthy, respectful behavior toward one another. This may contain mild thematic spoilers for the novel the couples appear in, but they are kept at a minimum!
If you’ve read My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, chances are that you know how perfect of a YA summer contemporary read it is: adorable, heartfelt, compulsively readable and with just a hint of scandal. When I was trying to outline my review though, I found that one aspect of the novel was dominating all of my other thoughts about it. This was the relationship between Jase and Sam, and how utterly healthy it was. It wasn’t a drama filled relationship for the sake of “passion,” nor was it a boring and substance-less innocent relationship of convenience. It had highs and lows, pitfalls and peaks, but ultimately it was built upon a foundation of mutual respect and adoration. It felt refreshingly mature for two teenagers, with consequences of varying magnitude at several points throughout the book and learning moments for both Jase & Sam. I have a sense of deep appreciation for the portrayal, and decided I wanted my review to focus on a relationship that I not only enjoyed reading, but that I would want anybody to read and have for an example of how functional a relationship can be, even amongst family drama and high school angst.
The relationship is built upon foundations of respect and friendly encounters.
From the moment Sam and Jase meet, there is an easy and friendly banter between them. There is no playing hard to get or teasing bordering on being rude. There’s no pushing of physical boundaries that’s allowed just because one or both of them it attractive. He doesn’t immediately give her a nickname that she may or may not like (a trend I see A LOT in YA, where the hot guy coins and nickname for the protagonist that she can’t shake and finally just accepts). He refers to her as Samantha before much later on asking her if she’d mind Sam. Jase offers Sam and friendly handshake and sits next to her, and they chat amicably while still maintaining witty banter. It’s realistic and not rushed and believable; anyone we meet on any given day could turn out to be our significant other. Jase doesn’t put up airs around Samantha for the sake of wooing her, and in turn Samantha finds her natural propensity for maintaining the perfect persona of being the “senator’s daughter” diminishing and her true personality shining through. No one is playing games, and that’s refreshing.
“The image-cultivation thing has always seemed kind of fake-o and manipulative to me.”
“So you don’t have some persona?”
“Nope, what you see is what you get.”
Family importance and boundaries are acknowledged.
Parents and siblings are not only present but involved in Sam and Jase’s relationship, for better or for worse. There’s Jase’s family, messy and erratic but welcoming Sam with open arms, and there’s Sam’s mother, disapproving and unapproachable and despising the Garrets for the disorganized lifestyle they lead. Sam and Jase are seventeen, and in the story the impact their families have on their relationship is very, very real. Sam feels pressured to keep Jase a secret from her overbearing mother for most of the story, which causes tension as their relationship grows and Jase wants to be more open. Meanwhile, Sam loves Jase’s family but they often overstep their boundaries and rope Sam into babysitting or interrupt their time as a couple, and the big twist at the end of the book ultimately forces Jase and Sam to choose allegiance to their relationship or to their families. Bottom line, Jase and Sam’s relationship doesn’t exist inside of a vacuum in a self centered damn-the-consequences stereotypical teenager way, but rather is largely impacted by the other relationships in their lives. Yet they also understand that their families are an inherent part of their identities that cannot be shed for a few month’s worth of teenage love.
“Is Jase already gonna marry you?”
I start coughing again. “Uh, No. No, George. I’m only seventeen.” As if that’s the only reason we’re not engaged.
“I’m this many.” George holds up four, slightly grubby fingers. “But Jase is seventeen and a half. You could. Then you could live in here with him. And have a big family.”
Jase strides back into the room, of course, midway through this proposition. “George. Beat it. Discovery Channel is on.”
George backs out of the room but not before saying, “His bed’s really comfortable. And he never pees in it.”
There’s no guilt or shaming in asking for help.
Sam and Jase can rely on one another without having to be afraid of the other passing judgement, especially in an emergency situation. Rather than chastise Sam for having “loser” friends, Jase offers Tim, who struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, a chance to start fresh with a job at his father’s hardware store. Even early on in their relationship, Sam knows she can rely on Jase -and by extension his family- for help without him flipping out on her for getting into situations in the first place or having a macho or domineering persona when he does step in to help her. There’s no shaming when one of them gets emotional either. Such is the case when Sam and Nan (both unlicensed) are in the car with Tim, who is clearly under the influence and driving erratically, and she calls Jase for help before they get into an accident with dire consequences.
“I’m sorry I got you into this.”
“It’s nothing, Samantha. I’m glad you’re all okay. Nothing else is important.” He looks at me for a moment. “Not even curfew.” His voice is low, gentle, and I feel the tears gathering in my eyes again.
There’s responsible passion and intimacy.
There’s no slut-shaming in this book, which I greatly appreciate. Jase and Sam explore their intimacy on both physical and emotional levels and discuss when they’re ready and how they want to be prepared, right down to talking about protection. I thought this was a really great message, especially as Sam and Jase come from families with very different perspectives on having children and family planning (Sam’s mother hated having small children; Jase’s mom adores it and is often stigmatized for her constant pregnancies). Sam and Jase treated intimacy responsibly and like adults. I was proud of Huntley Fitzpatrick for not shying away from this topic.
“So I was thinking we should just make sure we’re…well, uh, prepared. Always. Then see when things move there so we’re both…”
“Ready?” I ask.
“Comfortable,” Jase suggests. “Prepared.”
Arguing within the relationship is fair and constructive.
Sam and Jase’s relationship is not without its problems, especially as it’s heavily within reach of their respective family dramas. Their relationship suffers under such circumstances, and they don’t always handle it perfectly. However, when there is conflict no one resorts to nasty name calling or underhanded tactics, and while they have to learn to overcome some communication issues (especially on Sam’s part), when they do have conflict you can tell there’s a genuine concern for the other person’s feelings beneath the anger. No petty hook ups with other people to “get back” at each other or vindictive texts or phone calls happening here.
“This isn’t you! You don’t act like this. What’s wrong?” He takes a step toward me, his eyes shadowed with concern. “Tell me so I can fix it.”
I fold my arms, stepping farther away. “You can’t fix everything, Jase.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t even know it was broken. I don’t understand. Talk to me.”