A Short History of the Girl Next Door

272p. Knopf. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524716073. POP
Gr 9 Up—Awkward high school freshman Matt Wainwright has two goals in life. He wants to join the varsity basketball team as a sophomore (he's already on JV) and get the girl: his longtime next-door neighbor and best friend Tabby. Unfortunately, Matt's life refuses to follow the script, with his inner monologue personified as an incompetent movie director who causes him to choke under pressure. This results in error after error during Matt's JV games and prevents him from telling Tabby how he really feels. It's not just here that his life-as-a-movie veers away from a picture-perfect script: a school tragedy leaves Matt reeling as he risks losing everything important to him. While this title doesn't pack the same emotional punch as a John Green novel, or contain Green's artistic turn of phrase, it is heartrending in its emotional authenticity, and its portrayal of loss and heartbreak in the second half is particularly poignant. In exploring Matt's grief-induced selfishness, self-pity, and occasional outright cruelty, Reck takes the story to sarcastic and bitingly dark places without plunging into the abyss. Matt's warm relationship with his grandfather and the surprisingly in-depth descriptions of basketball further enhance the book. Although the ending hits an anticlimactic note, it offers readers reason to believe that Matt will rebound.
VERDICT The informal writing style, short chapters, and connections to basketball will help this tragi-romance find appeal with reluctant readers. A strong purchase for YA collections.

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