I won a copy of The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla during Book Blogger Appreciation Week last month. It arrived in the mail last week, and I started reading right away.
About the Book:
“While most seniors at her high school are worrying about prom and final exams, seventeen-year-old Sam is desperately trying to save her best friend Jesse’s life. He has a rare, treatment-resistant form of cancer, and his odds of survival aren’t good–he may have only ten months to live. Through every bit of his pain and anguish, Sam has been by his side–through the grueling, aggressive treatments and their awful aftermath, to sleeping in his room at night when he’s afraid to be alone. Best friends and neighbors since preschool, Jesse and Sam’s friendship is changing–now they’re falling in love, and the bond between them grows stronger even as Jesse weakens. Will they have a happy ending…or will their story end in heartbreak?”
(From the jacket flap)
As a young teen, I devoured Lurlene McDaniel’s tales of heartbreak, a phase which I have most definitely outgrown. So, when I read McDaniel’s endorsement on the cover of The Girl Next Door, I worried it would be either cheesy or overwhelmingly heartbreaking. I was pleasantly surprised to find that neither was true.
Sam, the novel’s narrator, was warm and strong and real. I liked her from the beginning. The other characters, though less dynamic than Sam, were also believable, if a touch cliched. The writing was good about 95% of the time, with just a few spots that made me cringe a little. Hey, it happens.
The story is as much Sam’s as Jesse’s. Yes, Jesse is the sick one, and time is given to his feelings. But I would say that more emphasis is placed on Sam and her struggle to deal with Jesse’s illness. I am thankful never to have been in a situation like Sam’s, so I’m not in a place to judge accuracy, but her reactions and thoughts felt very genuine to me. I found myself rooting for her to work through her issues just as much as I was rooting for Jesse to get well.
The one thing that bothered me, that kept jarring me away from the narrative, could be considered spoiler. If you are particularly spoiler-sensitive, please skip the next paragraph!
Early on in the book–like, page 45 out of 237–Sam addresses the problem that Jesse doesn’t want to die a virgin. How does she address it? By climbing into bed with him herself. Which is fine. Except that AFTER they start sleeping together is when they admit they have “fallen in love.” Why couldn’t it have been before? It would’ve made their love seem more realistic, I think. The constant references to sex just seemed…unnecessary. I would be immersed in Sam and Jesse’s relationship, in the issues they were each struggling with, and then all of a sudden Sam would casually mention how much they’d been making love. I can see where they’d want to do it–a lot–but the mentions kept pulling me out of the story. A relatively minor quibble with a generally good book.
If you enjoy books along these lines, I think The Girl Next Door would be a great choice. If books like these make your toes curl and provoke involuntary shudders, best to stay away. I fall somewhere in between, and my reaction was correspondingly neutral: I didn’t love the book, but I didn’t hate it either. I think illness can be a tough topic to tackle in a novel, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with Castrovilla’s execution.
How do you feel about books that deal with illness? Are there any particularly good ones you’ve read? Do you find them difficult to read?