Saturday, 9 January 2016

'My Life Next Door' by Huntley Fitzpatrick

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Electric Monkey, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
'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. But here's the truth: In movies, it's never half so lovely as it is here and now with Jase.' 
When the Garrett family moves in next door, Samantha Reed's mother automatically warns her to stay away from them. The family is large, the lawn doesn't get mowed regularly, and the children's toys are always thrown all over the yard and in the swimming pool. This is unacceptable to Samantha's mother, with her OCD vacuuming and respectable position as state senator.
Samantha watches the Garretts from afar for ten years, getting to know them from a distance. Sitting out on her balcony, she gazes at the family next door... Until the day Jase Garrett climbs her trellis and sits down next to her.
'My Life Next Door' isn't anything revolutionary: Samantha and Jase are a modern day 'Romeo and Juliet', complete with a shocking twist that might tear their relationship apart forever. If you've read any contemporaries, you've definitely read something that fits into this formula.
I loved the first half of the novel, because Huntley Fitzpatrick has a lovely writing style. She's very skilled at evoking senses, and her descriptions of the humid, close air and the sweatiness of summer leave you feeling the heat: quite difficult when you're reading this book in the depths of winter in the UK. The descriptions of the feelings between Jase and Samantha were also extremely realistic, and while their relationship seemed to move a bit too quickly (they meet on her roof, and the next day she's going to his house and casually following him up to his bedroom) it wasn't done in a completely cliched way: I was happy that there were no dramatic announcements of love, nor any discussing of soulmates and destiny. That was quite reliving. I also appreciated the fact that this was the second YA this year that I'd read featuring the topic of safe sex - to have the characters together shopping for condoms was a very tender and well-written moment.
Huntley is also brilliant and making all of her characters stand out from each other. With the Garretts having a huge family of eight, it would have been easy to neglect some of the characters in favour of others, but that doesn't happen here. All of the Garrett siblings were individuals, and it was very easy to get to know them as separate characters, which really surprised me: some authors find it difficult to get a good contrast between two or three characters, let alone an entire brood.
I continued to be impressed throughout the second half of the book. There was a massive twist, in the form of Samantha's mum hitting Mr. Garrett in a drink driving incident, then fleeing the scene. Samantha is in the back of the car when the accident happens, but she's only just woken up so she's not completely sure what happens. When she hears the news about Jase's dad, she's suspicious, but she overhears a conversation between her mother and Clay, her campaign advisor, a couple of days later which confirms her fears.
Instead of running straight to Jase, Samantha is torn. She loves her boyfriend, but her mother is her mother. As well as this, she has Clay breathing down her neck, blackmailing her into keeping quiet and threatening to ruin the Garrett family business if she doesn't call things off with Jase immediately.
The way that Jase and Samantha dealt with the obstacle that cropped up in their path was mature, reasonable and logical. I appreciated the fact that she considered all of her options before deciding that the truth was the only way, and that she didn't let herself get bullied into silence: I appreciated him for not blaming her for her mother's mistakes, and for accepting the fact that she felt loyal towards her family. There's no histrionics, no melodramatic screaming and no emotional breakdowns - it's all handled beautifully.
However, I was so disappointed with the resolution of the subplots. The relationship is resolved brilliantly, and while the ending is very anti-climactic and feels as though it's been left in the middle of a scene, at least we get some sense of a wrapping up. This is more than we get with the other threads that have been beautifully weaved throughout the novel, so it meant I felt very cheated when I finished the book.
Take, for example, the plot between Samantha and her best friend, Nan. Samantha and Nan have been friends since they were extremely young, but through the course of the book Nan disowns Sam completely, removing her from her life and announcing how much she hates her. Then that's the end. There's no resolution of their friendship, no real reason for Nan to be such a horrible person to her friend (apart from the fact that Sam catches her cheating on a test, which she faces no repercussions for) and it's just left hanging there.
There's also no resolution regarding Sam's sister, Tracy, who is mentioned consistently. You think there might be more of a story to it, but no, she just goes off to the Vineyard with her boyfriend and exists there happily - well, apart from a throwaway comment at the end about them moving to Vermont. She's a bit of a non-character, because she contributes nothing to the plot and doesn't even really show up in the book... It was a bit of a strange inclusion.
And while I loved the majority of the book and the characters, and enjoyed the moral dilemmas regarding telling the truth, and whether the same rules would apply if the accident had involved a complete stranger, the omissions and the holes just made me feel a little bit too unsatisfied for me to rate this book any higher.
I'm definitely going to try more of Huntley Fitzpatrick's work in the future, because I might just being picky over this one... It's just that with such a beautifully crafted beginning, I'm always going to have high expectations for the entire novel.

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