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A Short History of the Girl Next Door

Review

A Short History of the Girl Next Door

Occasionally, YA readers have the urge to read a book that hits the core of what it truly means to live and love, to laugh and cry, to mourn and thrive, make mistakes and keep going through it all. Jared Reck’s A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GIRL NEXT DOOR resonates with all of these lessons, written in elegant and heartbreakingly humorous style.

Matt Wainwright’s story opens much like a movie: he’s the boy in love with the girl next door, Tabby: the girl he’s shared laughter with, shared bus rides with, shared growing up with, but he can’t manage to share a relationship with her --- after all, it’s not like he even has a chance if he can’t even tell her how he feels. So in between basketball practice, playing Candy Land with Murray, his younger brother, laborious biology notes and his ever-interesting English class, Matt pines after Tabby. But when Tabby starts spending time with Liam Branson, the most popular guy in school, Matt realizes that he’s lost his chance. As he finds Tabby slowly drifting away, Matt struggles to hold on to their friendship and his tentative grip on basketball and high school. And that’s before tragedy strikes.

"Jared Reck’s novel manages to neatly fold life --- messy and illogical as it can be --- into 265 neat pages packed with the substance and vitality of reality itself....His combination of casual style and sophisticated themes ensures that his novel will both entice teens and satisfy them...."

Jared Reck’s novel manages to neatly fold life --- messy and illogical as it can be --- into 265 neat pages packed with the substance and vitality of reality itself. Matt embodies the awkward high schooler that exists in all teenagers. His struggle to manage his fear of messing up when it matters with his potential to succeed is realistic and relatable, one of the most common struggles for teens. Often in novels, the main character possesses unnatural confidence and an ability to constantly succeed under pressure. Matt is the complete opposite, and readers will love him for it.

The writing style is casual and conversational, with a large dose of humor, and teachers and librarians can bet that this book will convert teenagers who believe reading is too pretentious and academic to consider. Though the basketball language might get confusing to people not familiar with the sport, Reck does an excellent job of adding passion into the scenes: Matt’s enthusiasm for basketball and his relationship with his hobby will draw the reader in, regardless of their outside knowledge of the sport.

One of the most interesting aspects of Reck’s novel is the way his characters break common character tropes. Matt loves both basketball and writing poetry --- often, writers choose to make their characters solely academic or athletic, overlooking the reality that many people enjoy aspects of both elements of life. In addition, Liam, a more secondary character, doesn’t fit the shallow, self-absorbed “popular” type, which is extremely refreshing to read.

The central aspect of the novel is the tragedy --- and Jared Reck knows exactly how to write a tragedy. The event itself is gut-wrenching, something the reader likely won’t expect at all. Matt’s tangled emotions, actions and thoughts after the event are so tangible, so realistic, as he grapples with the fact that life doesn’t always follow the patterns and rules we think it should. His gradual struggle to come to terms with what has happened is heartbreaking, but the bonds he forms and the lessons he learns soothe the readers’ own turbulent emotions as well. Matt’s parents, grandparents and Mr. Ellis form Matt’s support network, and each character is written with a rich personality that adds more meaning and emotion to the story as a whole.

Overall, Reck’s novel addresses deep and truly meaningful themes, as in many ways Matt comes of age, having been pulled out of innocence and into the sometimes awful realities of life. While Matt battles regret, Jared Reck powerfully addresses the fact that grief often makes us focus on our own sadness and forget that others are hurting too, and beautifully illuminates the bonds with family and friends that help us overcome tragedy. His combination of casual style and sophisticated themes ensures that his novel will both entice teens and satisfy them with a truly well-written novel.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on October 16, 2017

A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck