I picked this up in Waterstones a few weeks ago, when looking for easy, cheerful reading. I’ve been sticking to reading fairly light books recently – things I know I get through easily and which aren’t going to stress me out. Since February was the month of St Valentines day and every place that had the opportunity to profit from it suddenly being decked in hearts and roses, it seemed an appropriate time of year to be picking these stories up. I actually settled down to read this while at home sick off work. What else are you meant to do when you’re poorly?
I’m not exactly someone who reads a huge amount of chick lit or romantic fiction – while I don’t ignore the genre, I would call myself a casual fan at most. It’s what I read exclusively for comfort and to make me feel warm and fuzzy. My Life Next Door is something I would have loved when I was fifteen (rather than twenty three) – it was a fantastic bit of escapism.
The novel follows seventeen year old Samantha, who lives in a very lavish house in a nice neighbourhood with her Republican-State-Senator mom and wild-child big sister. Next door, drawing her mother’s disapproval and sneering comments, live the Garretts – a big family, expansive, filling their house and garden with toys, cars, bikes. Two parents, eight children, lots going on. Without anyone knowing, for years, Samantha has sat on the wide ledge outside her bedroom window and watched the Garretts in fascination at the full house of warm, happy people – and then one evening, Jase Garrett climbs up the trellis, perches next to her and says hi.
I am in love – yes, with the love story, with Samantha and Jase, but most of all with the Garretts. I love this fictional family with all their fictional troubles and complications and love and messiness. They’re a muggle, American version of the Weasleys, and I love them to bits. All that love and hard work and all those children spilling out a house that can barely hold them. Oh. So gorgeous.
Huntley Fitpatrick’s writing is a example of building strong character and plot – I often find that books in this genre get one or the other perfect, but struggle to maintain a balance between the two, but this did brilliantly at sacrificing neither. It’s easy to read, easy to settle into and – while the plot has many ups and downs – essentially heart-warming.
Here’s the thing (mild spoilers ahead, I guess?).
I met my now-husband when we were both eighteen years old – as such, I do not hold with the idea that being young negates a persons awareness of their feelings, or means that their romantic and personal entanglements are somehow worth less, or that turbulence in them is just adolescent drama which is therefore not to be indulged. Why and how do certain people decide that young people aren’t allowed to have feelings? So I’m always going to sympathise with the teenagers in books who are told by various figures of authority in their life that they can’t decide their relationships for themselves. What I loved about this book is that while there’s a sufficient amount of ‘drama’, it’s written in a way which legitimises, rather than minimalises, those feelings – it didn’t feel like an older author writing teenagers who they already had decided were being a bit ridiculous.
Of my spate of reading slightly-fluffy, comforting books in February, this was hands-down my favourite. Highly recommended!