Title: My Life Next Door
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books For Young Readers
Release Date: June 14th 2012
It’s almost entirely impossible to truly enjoy a novel where you find the minor characters more interesting than the protagonist. This is unfortunately what I experienced when I picked up Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door. Samantha Reed is not used to stepping out of her comfort zone and much of her safe little world has been defined by her overly critical mother. The Garretts next door have always represented what her own family is not. When Samantha meets Jase Garrett and he introduces her to his unstructured family, Samantha begins to fall in love with all of them. But both her worlds are about to collide in the most heartbreaking way and Samantha comes to realize she may not be able to keep both families.
I really wanted to feel invested in Samantha’s story, but in the end, I felt very little for this protagonist. Compared to the larger ensemble of characters, Samantha was bland in comparison. Samantha’s older sister Tracy makes only a couple of appearances, but her willingness to challenge her mother’s impossible standards made her immediately more interesting than Samantha. As a state senator, Samantha’s mother is constantly busy. Much of her energy is focused on campaigning for her next term. She’s judgmental in a way that is hard not to cringe at and if there was a reward for worst mother in YA fiction, she’d probably win. Both these characters evoked more emotion from me than the protagonist. Samantha’s best friend Nan is a hard pill to swallow even from the beginning. I never bought into Samantha and her relationship and their entire dynamic made me wish Samantha had even one positive female relationship. She did not.
I appreciated that Samantha’s love interest Jase was such an individual with unique interests. His family is his biggest cheerleader and he in turn is incredibly devoted to them. That being said, there were times where I would have liked to see a more flawed version of the character. Characters who are too perfect can also feel really flat. Surprisingly, I felt the most invested in Nan’s brother Tim. His sister is meant to serve as a foil to him. In the beginning, I could not stand his character. He’s a completely disaster, but with the help of certain characters, he finds his footing. In the end, I found myself most invested in the budding friendship between Jase and Tim. I will say that Fitzpatrick does do a good job of defining three different families simultaneously, but it’s unfortunate that the Reeds were the family I was the least interested in knowing more about.
Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door is almost universally a favorite of YA contemporary fans. While Samantha does show some growth in the end, I never felt invested in her as a character. It also didn’t help that all of the characters in this novel who made mistakes never seemed to actually face any consequences. It made me wonder what the point really was when it came to certain storylines.