Desert Isle Keeper
My Life Next Door
Like Rapunzel, compliant and affluent Samantha Reed has watched the boisterous Garrett family from her window for years, because her icy control freak state senator mother simply doesn’t interact with “that kind of people.” When Jase Garrett finally introduces himself, Samantha finds herself not only falling in love with him, but with his family and the zestful way they live. Meanwhile, her mother is falling under the control of a political Svengali, her best friend Nan is distancing herself in a pre-college frenzy, and Nan’s twin Tim grapples with substance abuse – and the biggest obstacle to Samantha and Jase hasn’t even happened yet. This excellent book features likeable, good-kid leads and conflict that is gripping without pulling from extreme issues. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
YA contemporary plots typically run on a deadline, with events having to occur before or around school year milestones like breaks, prom, or graduation. This can make plot points predictable (“It’s April, so she’s going to have to tell Dad she didn’t apply to his alma mater about now, or he’ll find the envelopes.”). Not so here. My Life Next Door is set across the summer, and the only major thread on a timetable is Samantha’s mom Grace running for office. Consequently, this book feels fresh and original. There are no obvious Chekhov’s guns hanging over doors which jolt you out of the story with ominous DUM DUM DUMs, and it’s only after you get to the end that you realize that the plot is constructed deftly so that events tie together.
I have mom-love for both Samantha and Jase, which is to say I want to hug them both and take them home with me. Samantha is smart and reliable, but she needs to figure out what she wants and learn how to be a person separate from her controlling mother’s vision of a perfect political family. Jase is helpful, supportive, and kind, especially to his many siblings (if you, like me, have watched a lot of Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb with small children, he’s basically Candace’s boyfriend Jeremy). When Tim takes Nan and Samantha on an intoxicated joyride, and Samantha manages to steal his keys, it’s Jase she calls for help. He drives all the way out to get her, and although she anticipates him losing his temper, he simply holds her and tells her she did the right thing. Yay to both of them, and yay to the author for giving us action and drama in a YA contemp with a scene that still felt true-to-life. Also yay to the character of Tim, whose fascinating volatility makes him the clear Best Supporting Actor nominee in this cast – although Samantha’s mom and Clay, her political advisor/boyfriend/puppeteer are interesting as well, and although there is villainy, it’s sadly plausible and not mustache-twirling.
This book features two teens losing their virginities together, and it’s handled extremely sensitively. They shop for and use condoms, and while the scene itself is narrated (we hear how it feels for Samantha in the first person), it’s not graphic. My favorite moment, however, is Jase recounting his awkward conversation with his dad, who suspects that Jase and Samantha are planning to have sex:
“So then… he goes on about” – Jase’s voice drops even lower – “um… being considerate and um… mutual pleasure.”
GO, MR. GARRETT, GO!
I have some quibbles. The setting references the W. Bush administration in the past tense, so it must be set recently, but the teens barely use cell phones – one even has a plan that runs on minutes – and nobody has a smartphone. This feels extremely dated for an affluent Connecticut community. The plot with Samantha’s friend Nan is left unresolved (realistic, but in fiction, a little frustrating). Samantha is able to display some teen flaws, such as her indecision that led to the ride with Tim, but Jase is maybe a little too perfect, with relative poverty being his main flaw. Still, he’s perfect in a beta kind of way, not a “secret millionaire dreamboat pop star is suddenly attending my school” kind of way, so I let it slide. I would have liked for him to be a little more explicit about why he liked Samantha.
Honestly, though, this is a great contemp, and I’ve already ordered more by the author. I look forward to a lot more great hours spent reading her work.