The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla
Publisher: WestSide Books
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (235 pgs)
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Fern
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?
When I started reading The Girl Next Door, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect; a young girl falls in love with a young man who is going to die. Yet as I delved into the work, I realized that the simplistic way in which I classified the work wasn’t fair at all. In truth, The Girl Next Door is much more than that. This is a book about embracing life, moving forward, and living for those little moments that pass us far too quickly.
Told in a first person narrative through seventeen-year old Sam, the story begins after she’s learned her best friend Jesse is dying of cancer. It’s a rare form of the disease, one that there is virtually no hope of treating. She’s taken to sleeping in his bedroom at night as he’s afraid of being alone. His illness is painful for both of them as they’ve been friends since childhood and each battle their own demons in regard to the news. Jesse, understandably, is afraid of death, while Sam is terrified of facing a future in which Jesse doesn’t exist. As the story progresses, they inevitably fall in love, and it is this which is the focal point, bringing all of the other elements into perspective. I was amazed at author Selene Castrovilla’s talent for revealing just how devastating the loss is for Sam without taking anything from Jesse. There are no villains, no self-imposed obstacles to block their happiness, but rather a knowledge that one day it will all come crumbling down around them, and the only thing they can control is the love, comfort, and joy they can bring one another until the unthinkable occurs.
There are varying subplots with add richness and depth to the work but make no mistake, this is a heartbreaking love story that will remain with you long after you’ve finished the last page. Ms. Castrovilla snared my attention with her fantastic story, Saved by the Music, but in The Girl Next Door, she’s made a fan for life.
On a side note, the material is geared toward a 14+ audience and contains sexual elements, but is very tastefully done.