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Review: “The Girl Next Door” by Selene Castrovilla

October 21, 2010

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)

My Thoughts:

The Girl Next Door Cover

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!

**POTENTIAL SPOILERS**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.**END OF POTENTIAL SPOILERS**

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.

Your Turn!

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?

8 Comments
  1. October 21, 2010 8:57 am

    Chocolat deals with an ill woman who takes charge of the end of her life, which is lovely, but it’s just a subplot.

    I do like the fact that love after sex is represented here, but unless there are feelings beforehand, the idea of Jesse sleeping with Sam simply because he doesn’t want to die a virgin makes me mildly uncomfortable; yes, she makes the choice herself, but it sounds like, at that moment, it’s motivated by pity. (And what’s wrong with dying a virgin, anyway? Sheesh. Teenagers.)

    • Erin permalink*
      October 21, 2010 11:47 am

      Oh, I remember that! It’s been a long time since I read that book.

      After they sleep together, they both realize they’ve had feelings for each other all along. I just didn’t understand why they couldn’t do the feelings bit first. Or, never do the feelings bit. And yes, Sam basically weighs the other options and decides she’d best just take care of the virgin issue herself, because…that’s what friends are for? From the beginning of chapter 6: “Jesse didn’t want to die a virgin. He never came out and said it, but I knew. … In the end, I realized it was much easier and safer to just do it myself, give myself to him.” If Jesse never said he didn’t want to die a virgin… Yeah, other than that bit, it was a pretty good book!

  2. October 21, 2010 8:11 pm

    I loved Lurlene McDaniel’s books as a kid too but I would definitely not read them now either! I am glad to hear this book isn’t too reminiscent of McDaniel’s books. It sounds good!

    • Erin permalink*
      October 21, 2010 10:21 pm

      It seems most kids went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase! I wonder what the draw is? I definitely thought The Girl Next Door was good for an audience who’s gotten past their McDaniel stage :-)

  3. October 22, 2010 8:23 am

    Ok, yes, mostly definitely do I want to read this (and although I didn’t read the spoiler section, I glimpsed enough of it to see that I’d be interested, because that issue is something that’s been discussed on tv for different reasons). It might just make it on my next-to-get list.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 9:02 am

      I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think. I’ll be interested especially to hear your thoughts on the one “issue” I had!

  4. October 22, 2010 8:49 am

    Ms. Castrovilla sent me a copy of this book for review and I’m looking forward to reading it in the next couple months. I read your spoiler section and while of course i haven’t read the book yet, to me it makes sense for two people to start having sex and then to decide they’re in love. Something happens when you kiss someone that makes lukewarm feelings grow (or fade), and many people are easily caught up in the romance of “falling in love” when really it’s all about lust. I think I’m looking forward to the book even more now!

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 9:12 am

      I will be very interested to hear your take on this book. I do realize sometimes sex –> love can work, but it didn’t for me in this book. It never felt genuine to me, I think mostly because of how it started (see my reply to The Literary Omnivore’s comment). I guess I wanted a book more focused on the love, but this lust thing kept cutting in. I hope you enjoy the book! Overall, I certainly did.

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