Review: A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck

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.
Humorous and heart-wrenching, A Short History of the Girl Next Door is perfect for readers who fell in love with All the Bright Places' Finch or Stargirl’s Leo.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Expected Publication date:  September 26th 2017
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts:
Matt Wainwright wants two things more than ever in his life: 1) for Tabby to see her as more than a friend and 2) to play varsity basketball next year. He is a quiet type but beneath the surface is a mind with a lot of things going on. What he can’t express verbally, he makes into small movies in his head. Like instead of telling her life-long and next-door bestfriend, Tabby, that he has a crush on her, Matt simply slips into romantic-movie mode and fantasizes that she is harboring the same feelings for him. Meanwhile in Reality Land, Tabby starts dating Liam: senior, popular, varsity player, all around nice guy. Matt still says nothing about his feelings but adjusts his script and role in his movie as the best friend in an unrequited love. Stupid Matt. At least he thinks he still has his other dream going for him. He trains passionately hard for it: shooting daily hoops in their driveway, practicing with his other bestfriend Trip and diligently attending JV training. All these hard work, with bits of imaginations in his mind on how good he must look sweating, like the athletes in power drink commercials.

The Goodreads blurb does not lie when it says “A Short History of the Girl Next Door” is both humorous and heart-wrenching. Humorous because obviously of how Matt’s mind works: he vaguely gives a vibe of a more tame and pure Greg Gaines from “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”.  Matt has even his own Earl in the form of his other bestfriend, Trip. As for the heart-wrenching bit, I will not tell anything about it to avoid spoiling the book. Just trust me that indeed it is and there were unexpected tears involved on my part.

The book is basically Matt’s coming of age story and that I think is young adult genre in its purest form. I like it when the book depicts Matt in awkward fifteen year old situations because he is definitely not a child anymore but not an adult neither. Like when he can’t drive on his own yet so he has to take the school bus. Or when he was forced to go trick or treating by his mom in full bald eagle mama costume to match his younger brother baby bald eagle chick costume. Matt’s conflict is not really focused on him winning Tabby over (he is too passive for that) but on the general feeling of helplessness when things don’t go as scripted that it doesn’t make sense. The ultimate message of the book warms my heart: Life may seem pointless but the people we love and care about, having met them, being with them or spending time with them, is worth all the life’s meaning we are looking for.

I have one complaint though: the book has misogynistic tendencies which were left with little to no correction. I think the book is aware of the problem and made Matt felt vaguely uncomfortable that Tabby is the subject of a “boys’ locker room talk”. Matt himself was caught by Tabby with a chauvinistic ranking of all the girls in their grade, they fought about it and did not speak to each other for a while. Tabby also apprehended Matt when he made a yo mama banter with a bully but it was not clear if Matt understood why Tabby told her not to do that again. I know that it adds a realistic touch what with it narrated in first person PoV of a fifteen year old boy, but it would have been better if the book also took the opportunity to drive home an unequivocal message that misogyny is wrong and unacceptable.

Diversity Watch:
Tabby is a redhead.
All the other characters are racially indeterminate.
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