“The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?”
Thoughts: Friendship, family, and love lie at the heart of Huntley Fitzpatrick’s debut novel, My Life Next Door. Abandoned by their father when the girls were little, Samantha Reed, her sister, and her mother have forged a life of privilege thanks to her mother’s trust fund. In spite of everything she has, Sam looks longingly upon their next-door neighbors, the Garretts – a rowdy, constantly-growing family the likes of which have been deemed unworthy of notice by Sam’s mother. After years of watching them from afar, one of the infamous Garretts decides to take matters into his own hands, and a burgeoning relationship is born.
What makes My Life Next Door more than just another YA novel is the very real presence of the parents. Mr. and Mrs. Garrett take a very active role in each of their kids’ lives, and the family flourishes as a result. Even Sam’s mother, as distant and focused as she is on her political campaign, is not hidden in the background or an afterthought. This deviation from a normal YA plot device is as enlivening as it is encouraging. Finally, readers can get a feel for how truly wonderful functional families can be and not focus on how grown-up a teen is because his or her parents opt to live separate lives. The Garretts make for some of the most enjoyable scenes in the novel. They may be messy, loud, quirky, and seemingly poised to take over the world, they are also welcoming, warm, open, loving, and steadfast. This is how families should be represented.
Along a similar vein, Sam is relatively even-keeled and honest. She is the good girl – the one who has always followed directions. Exposure to the Garretts helps her to break out of her shell, but she does not rebel like she could, or probably should. Instead, she remains as serious and resolved as ever but is more able to vocalize her desires. Sam’s coming-of-age story is less about the teen drama and more about her ability to handle the drama from outside forces. If only we all could have enjoyed such a relatively painless journey to adulthood.
While this is Ms. Fitzpatrick’s debut novel, her writing is anything but novice. She uses some of the most gorgeous prose imaginable throughout My Life Next Door. From her exquisite descriptions of the Connecticut shoreline to the unique characters that make up the Garrett family, a reader is left with a crystal-clear knowledge of exactly what Ms. Fitzpatrick was trying to portray. While readers may want to question Sam’s desire for something different when she seemingly grew up with everything, the writing prevents a reader from passing judgment on Sam, and more surprising, even later on her mother. This is not a trite novel about young love but rather a careful portrait of the choices one makes and their impact on others, one possible only through Ms. Fitzpatrick’s outstanding writing.
Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door is a gorgeous coming-of-age and love story that confirms what it means to be family. More importantly, it resets one’s opinion on what it means to be considered successful. The Garretts are the type of family that everyone should be so lucky to have as neighbors and friends, let alone have as their very own. Sam and Jase’s burgeoning relationship has an authenticity to it not normally seen in young adult relationships, very refreshing for readers of the young adult genre and very honest in its discussion of responsibilities and next steps. For once, the teens act less like drama kings and queens and more like the adults they are on the brink of becoming. My Life Next Door deserves to be savored and thoroughly enjoyed and is a perfect way to spend those lazy summer days. Readers everywhere deserve to fall in love with Sam and Jase and all of the Garretts.