Also by this author: The Boy Most Likely To
Published by Speak on June 13th 2013
Pages: 394 •Goodreads
"One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time."The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase's family embraces Samantha - even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha's world. She's suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?A transporting debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.
Feeling like one of the only bloggers who had yet to read and love Huntley Fitzpatrick’s debut novel, I eagerly started it while on my vacation this summer. I expected a light, fluffy read with perhaps some slight shades of dysfunction, similar to a Sarah Dessen novel. However, I found My Life Next Door to be much more nuanced than I anticipated and found it really lived up to the hype and expectations I had for it.
While the book is often primarily seen as a romance, and the romance is very present and very well done, this book managed to integrate family with just as much weight into its narrative, an impressive feat in YA. Samantha’s family dynamics were complicated and increasingly uncomfortable despite its small size, and I was hooked on reading about how her mom’s campaign for state senator slowly encompassed their entire family structure. The Garretts, meanwhile, could not have been more different, with eight children and a much more laid back lifestyle, but I was glad to see Fitzpatrick balanced the two polarized families with such ease. Not to mention I felt like I really got to know almost all of the Garrett children individually, rather than them running together in my mind because there were so many of them (my favorite, hands down, was George). I also enjoyed the secondary characters such as Nan, Tim, and even Tracy’s bro-dude boyfriend, because they were all so nuanced (and at times unlikeable) and human in there motivations.
What impressed me most about this novel was that it featured well written, nuanced characters AND a well-paced plot. I felt the gravity of the situation when Sam and Jase’s families inevitably collide at the end of the novel, and my heart broke for both of them, especially Sam, as she struggled to make the “right” decision when all of the outcomes leave someone close to her not just hurt, but devastated. It was a light contemporary that gradually wove itself into a more serious story, and it was done so incredibly well that I immediately pre-ordered The Boy Most Likely To upon finishing it.
Overall: A summer contemporary romance that has so much more to offer and expertly balances family and teenage love, My Life Next Door lives up to the hype. It explored different family and parenting styles without falling into the “rich girl poor boy” cliché and contained a cast of nuanced characters who felt like real people instead of plot devices. Despite a few instances where I wish Sam had been a bit more assertive, I really enjoyed this novel and it stands out in its genre.
What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Also by this author: Saint Anything, Just Listen, Along for the Ride, Lock and Key, Dreamland, Once and for All, The Rest of the Story
Published by Speak on April 9th 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Family
Pages: 402 •Format: Paperback •Source: Purchased
Who is the real McLean?
Since her parents' bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.
What Happened to Goodbye is one of Dessen’s “newer” novels, and by newer I mean I didn’t read it in middle or high school. I was giddy when I found it at this year’s Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale and was thrilled to snag a copy with the updated cover. As a Food Network lover and Kitchen Nightmares fan, I immediately loved the premise, which focuses on a protagonist, McLean, who moves from city to city with her chef dad as he attempts to restructure and save failing restaurants. This constant moving is spurred by a huge family scandal involving her mother, her father’s favorite college basketball team, and an affair and eventual divorce.
A large portion of the novel centers on McLean’s relationship with her mother, and how damaged she is because of it. While I felt a great amount of sympathy for McLean and her father, I found that I couldn’t really connect with McLean the way I’ve been able to with other Dessen protagonists (such as Annabelle from Just Listen, who becomes so vulnerable to readers). McLean’s tendency to construct barriers between herself and others seemed to extend to readers, and even by the end of the book I didn’t feel like I had grown close to her. I was also disappointed by the lack of time spent exploring her Dad’s career and tenure at Luna Blu, as I was really interested in seeing how he attempted to save the restaurant, but that functioned much more as a background plot. Finally, I felt that in this instance the romance was completely unnecessary, and the book would’ve been stronger without it. So much of this story is about family relationships and finding your place between two different households in a mixed family and children with divided loyalties to parents, and every time I had to read about her relationship with Dave I was bored. It felt like filler and I think McLean could’ve found her way with her family and a solid group of friends without one of those relationships needing to be romantic.
Overall: A solid read that kept me hooked as all Dessen books do, but it lacked a protagonist who I could connect to or even feel like I knew well enough emotionally to be friends with. The family dynamics were messy and intriguing and captivating to read about (especially as McLean has two very different lifestyles with each parents) and it was thought-provoking to read about a teen experiencing parents divorcing, as at that point so much of your family life is routine and normalized and the fallout can arguably be more catastrophic than it is for small children. However, the romance added little to the plot (in my opinion) and felt like filler.
Book Buddies Ask:
“Book Buddies Ask” is a feature I do with my Book Buddy Lauren from Bookmarklit! While we do an in-depth buddy read every-other month, we decided it would be fun to ask fun little questions for other books we read together more casually! These questions are inspired by fun little elements from the book!
Food plays a role inherently connected to family in the novel, as McLean’s happiest times were spent with her family in their restaurant. Are there certain foods or recipes that you associate with certain family relationships you have?
Half of my family is Latin American in origin, and I’ve grown up associating my grandparent’s house with some wonderful traditional foods from Central America. Some of my fondest memories as a child were making handmade corn tortillas from scratch, rolling the masa in my hands and putting them on the griddle (mine were always smaller and deformed compared to the adults!) My grandfather makes rice seasoned with saffron that’s been a staple in my family, and my grandmother’s quesidilla, a cake-like pastry, has become a new favorite of mine as I get older and my sweet tooth expands!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge