Creating a lifetime in little time.
Publisher: Westside Books
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 3rd January 2011
Sam’s best friend Jesse only has a few months to live and Sam is only just starting to realise that she’s always been in love with him. Jesse doesn’t want to die a virgin and Sam wants to be with him in the remaining time as much as possible.
The story is full of angst, revolving around Sam’s mental state and how she is unable to cope. It takes a while for the other characters to comprehend just how far she’s falling, while the reader gets the full force of it from the start. At first it’s quite confusing how Sam conducts herself and indeed throughout she can come across as selfish until you remind yourself why she has turned to this kind of behaviour. She often asks rhetorical questions or answers others’ questions silently, in her head, providing the reader with a good account of how such a situation can affect a person.
The story is mostly based in one room, and while it’s realistic the setting combined with the inner dialogue make it a slow read. But perhaps that’s the point. When you hear about the lives of those with cancer, say on the television, you rarely get an adequate account of it as the producers are hindered by wanting to make a big impact and not having that impact fade through too much exposure. In our society today too much repetitive information is seen as boring and so the mundane existence of someone dying, the mundane being caused by the fading of the body, and the requirement to be near medical centres all the time, is only truly known to those who experience it first hand. With this in mind I have to say that the book is only slow and dull because of conditioning and that actually for this reason you could say that Castrovilla’s story is of great importance.
The problem comes, then, with Castrovilla’s choice of secondary subject. Sex. It’s not that sex is included – it’s the way in which it comes to pass. It’s understandable that dying a virgin would seem a repellent idea and it’s also understandable that a person would like to have a lot of sex before they die. What’s difficult is how quickly the initial decision is made. It leads the reader to question how the relationship would have continued had the illness not entered the characters’ lives and I’m afraid that it does make you question whether Castrovilla is promoting the right values. And yes, I’m aware that one could question what exactly the right values to have are.
On one hand you have a book that looks into a very difficult situation and does it extremely well, but on the other you have an example of what the book would’ve been without the illness – and it’s not a good stance.
While I think that the inclusion of sex was a good one I believe that the overall handling was poor and it is this that brings the possible success down. The Girl Next Door is far from terrible and there is a lot to be had from it, but I’m really not sure whether I would recommend it.
January 23, 2011, 9:01 pm
I’m with you on the sex issue. I didn’t like how it was introduced or dealt with. I thought the rest of the book was fairly well done, but that bit didn’t sit right with me.