I have to say, this is the hardest review I’ve written in a really long time because I’m very conflicted by this book. On one hand, it was well done, but on the other, I had a hard time connecting with it.
Rather than trying to get around this review, I’m just going to tell you guys what did work for me and what didn’t, because The Girl Next Door is the sort of book that I know others will like even if I didn’t. The things that bothered me were personal preferences only, and the book itself wasn’t bad. I didn’t dislike it – I just didn’t get along with it. I really loved the premise, and the beginning of the book was fantastic. I loved that the way these two long-time friends handled their relationship together. I liked Sam’s mom a lot, especially the way she handled Sam’s five-year-old brother who constantly wore his mother’s dresses, shoes, and makeup. I liked the direct, realistic way that the characters handled sex. I felt like the relationship between the two main characters made a lot of sense, and they acted a lot like teenagers, in more ways than one.
I liked that fact. I liked that they acted like teenagers…but this is where the crux lies. I didn’t like the way they acted. It wasn’t the sex. Honestly, teenagers having sex doesn’t bother me. It happens, and these two were months from being 18 anyway. They were smart about it, and used protection, and they were honest. That part was good. What bothered me was threefold. First, teen speak. While the author used it well, I still can’t stand “teen speak” in books in general. Second, while it’s completely realistic that once two teens start having sex, they tend to have it far more often than necessary, I felt like there was too much focus on sex in the second half of the book, especially at inappropriate times emotionally. Third, teen emotions can be extremely volatile, especially in such a stressful situation like this, and I found the narrator (Sam) to be over the top whiny and angsty.
Now obviously, a teen reading this book – since that’s the intended audience – might completely relate to those three things, but I personally couldn’t. I completely understand Castrovilla shaping the narrative so that it was fractured and disjointed, in first person, so that it simulated the roller coaster you would be on if your best friend and love of your life was dying, but I wanted the book to slow down and give me a chance to feel. I, as an adult, don’t rotate feelings as quick as I did 15 years ago, so I felt disconnected from the narrative in a way a teen reader probably wouldn’t. Honestly, I really do think that’s what this boils down to – I’m probably just too old to really understand Sam, who was telling this story.
Back in middle school, I read a book that was similar to this one in concept, called Sheila’s Dying. I remember being very effected by it, and I can see exactly how this book might give those same emotions to a teen reader. Like I said above, it’s very hard to write this review, because I’m so conflicted. It’s not a badly written book, but I personally just couldn’t connect to it. That’s the worst type of feeling when reading a book, I think. I’d rather a reading fall into the very definite category of good or bad, or even just meh, rather than this feeling of “yes I can see, but no, I can’t feel.” That’s rough.