The Boy Next Door
I was pleased to review The Boy Next Door because I read and enjoyed the authors’ previous American release Come Together. I’m happy to say that their new one is even better. This story is absorbing and touching, the dual first-person narrative device still works well, and this story isn’t quite so gritty in its portrayal of modern courtship as Come Together, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.
Mickey Maloney and Fred Roper were neighbors long ago. They grew up right next door from each other in the small village of Rushton. They played together, laughed together, cried together. They were friends. Then they grew up a little, and they became something more than friends. And then, while they were sorting out their feelings for each other, something terrible happened, and they never saw each other again.
Fifteen or so years later both are living in London. Mickey is divorced, has a young son, and has just opened a flower shop. Things have not worked out exactly the way she planned them to, but, on the whole, she’s not unhappy – not exactly. Fred is a marketing manager for a news-as-it-breaks dot.com. He has made a success of himself, and he’s about to marry an equally successful woman, Rebecca, but still he feels that something is missing. One night in a toy store, he accidentally runs into Mickey, and after an awkward moment, he panics and leaves. But later, he seeks her out and finds that, in Mickey, he had and has the one person who understands and accepts him fully. She knows all the ugly secrets of his past, and they don’t matter to her at all. But what Fred doesn’t know is whether his feelings for Mickey are simply nostalgia or something more meaningful. And what about Rebecca? The wedding is only four weeks away.
Fred and Mickey are very well defined. The book is written in alternating first person point of view – first Fred, then Mickey, and then Fred (and so on), so we get to know each of them quite well. Fred and Mickey seem both different and alike. The similarities come from the fact that so many of their early memories are the same, and it’s in these flashbacks to childhood that the characters really shine. All of the angst, frustration, and insecurity of early adolescence came to the fore. These were the most poignant scenes in the book.
The present day scenes are done very well too, and it’s easy to like the people that Fred and Mickey have grown into being. Meeting each other again, they are both struck by how well they still fit together. Both of them feel a longing and regret for lost opportunities, and those strong emotions make the book “feel” somewhat sad, but also makes the ending “feel” even happier and more right.
Rebecca is probably the weakest part of the story. Her character seems very one-dimensional. She’s shallow and selfish, and even with her intelligence, beauty, and sexual proficiency factored in, it’s hard to understand why Fred thinks she will be a good life’s partner. Also, Rebecca’s part in creating Mickey and Fred’s happy ending seems a little maneuvered. Other than Rebecca, however, this book really shines.
The Boy Next Door reminds me why I like the sub-genre of Chick Lit so well. Life is a bit more real, the people are a little more unpredictable, and the setting and language are just different enough to hold my interest. Combine those things with a very nice story, as Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd did, and you have one happy reader – me.