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, and he may have only ten months left 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 is weakens. Will they have a happy ending...or will their story end in heartbreak?
OPINION: 5 STARS
A tale of love and loss, pain and healing, The Girl Next Door is an arresting read that carries its own black cloud. Launching right into the pain aspect of the story, the book opens after Jesse’s cancer has ravaged his body. Enduring another round of chemo, Sam wakes up to hear him throwing up- again. The situation set up in this book is highly distinctive, as Sam stays with Jesse every night despite his mother’s disapproval to ensure Jesse doesn’t die alone.
Sam’s character changes dramatically throughout the book. Coming off initially strong, her fears and weaknesses are exposed as the story progresses. Flashbacks to the kids she and Jesse used to be are also prevalent, bringing to light how much has changed on account of Jesse’s rapid digression. Sam is a highly flawed character but also holds plenty of strength and an empowering strength that is refreshing and memorable. Her story is painful but endearing, her character empathetic and struggling.
Jesse is as radically shifted as Sam, a host of different personalities mixed within one boy and his daily state of health helps determine how weak or strong he is. Struggling with knowing he has just months to live and not even eighteen yet, seeing Jesse through Sam’s eyes is a very rough part of this book to stomach. She loves him as the boy who lived next door all her life- her best friend and confidant. But as they spend more time together, the love she’s held for him as more than friend is slowly returned, taking the entire situation to a new level. Jesse’s character comes out strongly, showing just how intensely he can love but his desire to live is tarnished by the near constant pain he lives with.
Jesse’s prognosis is not good and no matter how great things seem to be going, the weight of the cancer is always present. Throughout the book, the reader will be wondering if Jesse will be that 4% to survive although no one has yet survived his particular kind of cancer. With everything stacked against him, Jesse still fights even when it seems hopeless. Though this is a tale of first love, there is no promise of a happy ending. As things progress, Sam’s own mental state and ability to handle the situation is brought into question, casting a dramatic and heartbreaking light on an already dark tale.
A small but well developed cast of characters, a brave but heartrending set up, and lithe writing make The Girl Next Door an emotional but striking read. Intermixing several elements, there is a beautiful mix of life and death, happiness and pain throughout the book. Teenage love and lust play a large part in this book but it is cast in a different light given the seemingly hopeless scenario. The related situations are handled maturely and fluidly, adding to the story overall. Decisions and actions that would be deemed objectionable in a different situation take on a new form and the entire plot plays out in a surprising, stunning manner.
The final outcome is written exceptionally well, the entire story and last words reverberating for days after the book is put aside. The way Jesse’s condition affects not only him but those around him is portrayed, as is both his and Sam’s fight and desperation. This is a very moving and emotional read and a beautiful example of how one diagnosis can tear a world apart.