Friday, May 31, 2013

Young Adult Fiction: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

For reasons I am not entirely sure of, I am just now getting around to reading Huntley Fitzpatrick's My Life Next Door, which came out in the summer of last year. I was already somewhat interested in it, and then it was nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards, but of course, was beaten out by John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. Anyway, thanks to the UT San Antonio library I was finally able to pick it up and see what got people so excited.

The Situation: Samantha Reed lives a fairly uncomplicated existence with her single mother and sister, Tracy. She attends the local private school with her best friend, Nan, and both of them are about to kick off the summer before their senior year. This means part-time jobs with embarrassing uniforms, practice SATs, and getting in some swim time in order to be ready for team try outs in the fall. It also means occasionally babysitting for her next door neighbors, the Garretts, and all eight of their children. Joel, Alice, Jase, and Andy may not need supervision, but Harry, Duff, George, and Patsy are too young to be home alone while the parents work or run errands, and the older kids either live their own lives or work their own part-time jobs. Samantha has been observing the Garretts for years through her bedroom window. Their lives are so different from her own. But she soon finds herself fully immersed in their chaotic household, not to mention in a relationship with the sincere and disarming Jase.

The Problem: From the moment they moved in, Grace Reed, Samantha's mother, has never liked the Garretts. In her opinion, they have too many kids, their yard is never mowed, the garden is neglected, and they just aren't the kind of people Grace would prefer to have as neighbors. She would not approve of Samantha ever talking to them, much less babysitting for them. So the fact that her youngest daughter is dating one of them would send her over the edge. But this isn't the only issue Samantha is currently dealing with. It looks like Nan's twin brother, Tim, is getting deeper and deeper into drugs and alcohol, and Nan is turning out to not be the person Samantha thought she was either. And as her mom runs for political office, Samantha sees her less and less, while simultaneously seeing more and more of her iffy campaign worker. The summer started off so promising, but things quickly seem to get out of control, and it is all a little more than a 17 year-old could ever handle alone.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that explores themes of family, appearances, privilege, and happiness. The main opposition is set up between the Reeds and the Garretts: two families that live right next door to each other but couldn't be more different. Grace is overly controlled, and controlling, while Mr. and Mrs. Garrett are much more laid back, despite having eight kids to take care of. But something else that puts them at opposites is that while the Garretts seem happy, happiness is something Grace is only used to chasing, but never attaining. Other opposites that get set up are between Nan and Tim, Nan and Samantha, Tim and Jase, and even Samantha and Grace. Something that struck me was that, from the outside, Tim looks like an upstanding young man with his khaki suits and polo shirts, while Jase would easily be overlooked in his distressed jeans and t-shirt that is greasy from working on the car. But in reality, Jase is the one training for the football scholarship, while Tim got kicked out of school months ago and has been fired from every job he's ever had since.

My Verdict: This is a really fantastic story. For the most part, it is well-written, well thought-out, and the characters are relatable and interesting. Samantha isn't filled to the brim with the usual teenage angst that a lot of YA narrators have these days, and she admits that her life is fairly free of any real struggle. And while the Garretts may have a huge family, none of the kids get lost in the story and each have a personality all their own. My main issue with this story is the ending. There are just too many loose ends left hanging, and too many unanswered questions. It is as if Fitzpatrick panicked because she was approaching the 400 page limit that many YA novels tend to hover around, and decided to leave the fate of some characters unknown and put a quick fix, that ultimately fixed nothing, on everything else. Very unsatisfying, and utterly disappointing. Everything else is great up until that point. The plot kept me reading and lamenting that I only have one hour for lunch, and I really cared for the characters. But unless there is a sequel, there are just some things that will remain unresolved.

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Grace comes in and actually sits in the Garrett's living room while the kids are all over the living room and kitchen, eating pizza and ice cream and generally causing a mess, like they always do. 

Favorite Character: George Garrett is the second youngest in the Garrett family, and he is full of useless knowledge that only scares him and makes him ask too many questions. He's just a sweet, curious kid looking for answers, and he insists on calling Samantha "Sailor Supergirl" due to the sailor outfit she has to wear at her part-time job. 

Recommended Reading: Two other YA books came to mind that also have characters that live next door to each other. The first is Paper Towns by John Green (I know,  I recommend that one a lot), and the second is Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. I enjoyed both of these books immensely and think they would be a great follow-up to Fitzpatrick's novel.      

No comments: