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

Hi, all! I haven’t done a review in a while, and I had a LOT of thoughts about my most recent read, A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck, so I decided to share my opinions about it today.

*Please note: This blog post was written a while ago. My thoughts, opinions, and writing skills have changed since then. Any posts written before 2020 should be assumed to not fully reflect my current thoughts, opinions, and writing capabilities unless otherwise stated. If you would like clarification on my thoughts/opinions about any specific points mentioned in this post, feel free to reach out to me.*

Hi, all! I haven’t done a review in a while, and I had a LOT of thoughts about my most recent read, A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck, so I decided to share my opinions about it today.

Goodreads summary:

“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.”

[SPOILERS Ahead]

Rating/Review:

5/5

Right off the bat, I was very interested in this book. I got it for free as an arc from BookCon, and it automatically appealed to me because I’m a sucker for anything that involves a YA romance/friendship. And the title itself is literally a romance/friendship cliché. However, I was NOT expecting this book to turn out the way it did at all, and I LOVE the way all the events panned out. I finished the book within a day, which was exactly what I needed–after my recent slow/heavier reads, it felt so good to be able to fall back onto my guilty pleasure, the classic YA.

Let’s start with what I liked about this book–and trust me: there’s a lot. First of all, I adore every character so much. They are so vibrant and three-dimensional, and I love how everyone has their own flaws. Matt, Tabby, Trip…I just want to give those three kids a hug. But every person was so developed, whether it was the family members or the varsity basketball players or the teachers. I think had the characters not been developed the way they were, it would have changed my opinion of the book completely. Here’s why: because of the fact that this story is so cliché, the characters are one thing that can’t be cliché. Everything in this story is very typical  of a small town. (Trust me, I live in one). My only wariness going into the story was that it would turn out like this: Boy meets girl. Girl is perfect. Boy is underdog. Girl likes someone else. Girl realizes Boy is actually way better than douche-y guy. Girl ditches douche-y guy for Boy. They live happily ever after. I mean…it was kinda like that…but completely not. It started out following the storyline, but each character is so real that it doesn’t seem that way at all. Reck executed the story perfectly, in that each character is so well-rounded and has such developed, complex thoughts that I found the story completely unique. And then…the plot twist. Ohhh boy the plot twist. I was NOT expecting that at ALL. Seriously, I thought the saddest thing that would happen in this story would be that Tabby never liked Matt back but NO. What happened was that this book TORE MY HEART OUT. And ripped it into five million little pieces. And threw the shreds on the ground and freaking stomped all over it. At least, that’s what it felt like. THANKS JARED RECK FOR COMPLETELY DESTROYING ME. No but seriously, the plot twist was a game-changer for me, because it elevated the novel from a normal YA level into the freaking stratosphere. The greatest thing about this book is that it does not have what someone would call a “happy ending.” Like, Tabby DIES from a car accident, and Matt never tells her how he really feels about her, and she was still dating the varsity basketball star player. And yet. The book does have a happy ending, because Matt is able to grow from the experience. It’s like Grampa says–even though you wouldn’t choose to lose the people you love, to have things turn out the way they did, they did. And you have to move on, because that’s the only thing you can do. And most of the time, things turn out. But it doesn’t invalidate what happened. 

“‘So what’s the point? I mean, is there just no reason for anything that happens? Just deal with it and move on?’

‘I don’t know what the point of all this is, Matt. There are times–like with Beth and Laura, with Tabby–where there can’t possibly be a point. Others, it’s like the stars have lined themselves up just for you. I spent a lot of years trying to make those two fit together somehow.’ He looks right at me now. ‘I’m not sure they ever do. I just decided, however long I get, if I can spend time with the people I love, I don’t really care what the point is.'”

It’s really hard to lose someone. I lost my own grandfather last fall. The best thing to do, though, is what Matt did. It’s to try to live your life the way you know they would have wanted you to. To honor their memory by setting things right, rather than feeling like you’re the only one who understands your own pain. The way Jared Reck was able to get that message through was something I really, really appreciated. Besides all that–the characters, the plot, everything–the writing was just freaking beautiful, okay? The way it’s written, it doesn’t sound weird to have the words come out of a freshman boy’s mouth, and yet it evokes so many emotions. Some of the sentences just cut so deep. There were a lot of sections that made me emotional, but the first part of the novel that actually caused physical tears to spring to my eyes was this passage:

“I could have my moment. I could lean in and kiss Tabby with everything I have–hands on her face, in the rain, sound track rising in the background–and maybe she’d even kiss me back.

But at the end of the night, she’ll still be wishing it could be with Liam Branson.”

I don’t know what it is about that, but it just hurt me to read it. You finally feel the gravity of how much he adores her and how painful it is for his love to be unrequited. I think that’s the worst part about unrequited love (or like), is that you’re always holding out this little sliver of hope even though you know it’s hopeless–you know they will never feel the same way, but you can’t help but still love them, and it hurts. Yeah. Then after that, it was just tears, tears, tears. Like I couldn’t stop crying, even before I reached the part where they discover what happened to Tabby, and from that point I was just flat out shamelessly sobbing. The other part that wasn’t even that relevant to the story but actually destroyed me was when Mr. Ellis reads the poem about the father and his adult son, and it just made me really really emotional.

“‘What he doesn’t know / is that when we’re walking / together, when we get / to the curb / I sometimes start to reach / for his hand.”

WHY did Jared Reck feel the need to INCLUDE THAT IN THIS BOOK where I would READ THOSE WORDS?!?!?! Is he trying to kill me here?!!! And as if that’s not enough, Mr. Ellis has to go ahead and talk about giving the poem to his father and ksjldkfjsihfpiqh FEELINGS. I’m not even going to talk about all the parts after Tabby’s accident that made me cry, because that would literally be the entire last half of the book. Up until the very last page, when Matt says,

“I lost my friend. She knew me better than anyone else in my life–from my favorite lunch after morning kindergarten, to my first girlfriend in fifth grade, to the worst things I’ve ever done. I loved her. And now it’s like a part of me–a part of these memories–is gone. An icy road and an SUV, and YOLO has never been more devastatingly true.

Tabby’s ‘once’ is over.”

In terms of what I disliked about this book, well hmm…I don’t think there actually is an aspect I didn’t enjoy. I expected and wanted a realistic fiction story about a typical teenager in high school, and that is what I got–but more. I also got an atypical situation and I got a uniquely written narrative. I only secretly wish that things had turned out differently, that Matt had gotten the girl. But I think that’s what makes this book so powerful. The boy doesn’t always end up with the girl. The people you love aren’t always going to be there forever. Jared Reck wrote real life.

I tend to measure the greatness of a novel based on how much it makes me cry. Pain. Sadness. To evoke so much feeling in a person to create tears, just from reading words on paper, it means you were able to capture the gravity of the situation so profoundly, so intensely, that they feel what is on the page. This book made me cry buckets. And it was really, really good.

Author: april | lostinthebookstacks

hello! i'm april (she/her), an asian american reader who’s passionate about words and scallion pancakes.

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