A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared ReckPublished by Knopf Books for Young Readers on September 26th 2017
ARC from Publisher
Purchase on Fully Booked
The unrequited love of the girl next door is the centerpiece of this fiercely funny, yet heart-breaking debut novel.
Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.
I knew when I heard about A Short History of the Girl Next Door that I needed to read it. I love dynamics where in guys and girls are best friends (mostly because that’s not something I’ve ever experienced in real life and as always, I treasure experience through books) and particularly love when one of them is feeling a little bit something more. Matt and Tabby’s story, however, took me by surprise as it felt very different from most unrequited love stories I’ve read before.
“If Tabby had diarrhea of the mouth, then I suffered from verbal constipation.”
A Short History of the Girl Next Door builds its tension from the first page. It was interesting for me that the book begins with the “worst nightmare” of a guy secretly in love with his best friend becoming a reality when an infinitely cooler senior gives her a ride and basically sweeps her off her feet. The chapter is a short one but makes such an impact and plays so much like a movie, like most chapters in the book as well as the book as a whole.
What kept me reading though is how authentic Matt Wainwright’s voice is, whether it be from his point of view as a JV basketball player (seriously love Matt’s passion for basketball!) or as a fifteen-year-old boy or as someone pining for the girl next door. But as the story narrates Matt’s astonishingly honest perspective, it also shows him as a genuinely flawed kid, which didn’t make it very easy to go through the first half of the book without being a little bit frustrated at him.
“Everyone’s the star of their own movie…You’re not the only one hurting. It’s like everyone’s supposed to know how much you’re hurting–and I know you are, Matthew, I do–but not just that you’re hurting, that you’re hurting the most. That your pain is worse than everyone else’s pain. That they could possibly understand the depths of your pain. Because how could they, Matthew? They haven’t lived your life. They’re not the star of your movie–you are. They’re in their own movies, and while you’re walking around hating the world for not understanding your pain, they’re hurting too.”
Nevertheless, the last third of A Short History of the Girl Next Door broke my heart so much that it completely made up for the rough patches beforehand. The reason I quote-unquoted worst nightmare earlier is because the book’s twist is the hardest blow of all. Like Matt, I did not see it coming. (This made me realize that I’m bad at reading book synopses and skim over some important details/clues)
Still, not knowing gave me the full effect and left me teary-eyed. Matt’s rage and pain was so relatable and so real and I wanted to hug him through the last few chapters of the book.
“You know how every year after Halloween, how we have all our shitload of candy, and we put them in our piles? We make our hierarchy, our candy rankings. And, you know, chocolate bars are clearly at the top of the rankings, and then SweeTARTS, and Tootsie Rolls, and all the way down to raisins—”
“If you call me a raisin, I’m going to punch you in the nuts.”
“No, you’re not a raisin. Hang on a minute. So we have our rankings, but off to the side, every year, are the Nerds. The Nerds are so good, so amazing, they’re not even part of the rankings. They exist totally outside of the hierarchy.
“You’re the Nerds.”
A Short History of the Girl Next Door is an emotional rollercoaster ride. There are simple quiet daily life moments, then there are such intense gutwrenching moments. And I think that’s what A Short History of the Girl Next Door tries to convey–that all those moments are significant, that every moment is important.
On that note, I hope you don’t waste any moment and read this book immediately because I assure you that it’s a very impressive debut novel that just might make your heart ache and definitely would make you crave a box of Nerds.