Girl Next Door

Girl Next DoorGirl Next Door by Alyssa Brugman

This is a book about a family on the way down. They have a ‘monster’ house, as teen narrator Jenna-Belle tells us, ‘a house with wings.’ She and her brother go to the best schools. Mum has a killer job and Dad has left work to start his dream business.

That was then. Now their father is ‘in the country’ (the kids know no more), their mum is pregnant, they have a boarder in the spare room and an increasing amount of empty space where their possessions used to be. Oh, and the house is worth less than they owe on it.

Brugman plunges the reader into the world view of a rather shallow teen narrator before the plot switches to strikingly more serious matters. The family decline, which has been happening for months before the events of the novel, continues to a tipping point. When their father reappears, nearly half way through the book, the children’s relief gives way to greater anxiety as the penny drops. There is no rescue package. At this stage their boarder, Bryce, turns out to be a better bet. He understands their predicament and offers material help to a point, but is himself a professional punter, and apparently not a hugely successful one.

Girl Next Door has a surprising impact. What is lost begins with the unnecessary trappings of a pampered lifestyle, then access to a private school education, the normal home comforts and finally a place to live. Along the way the family is disintegrating, father absent, mother detached and flagging, and a stranger the best hope they have. Jenna-Belle also grows closer to her friend and neighbour, Declan, but is as confused and hurt by his naive attention as she is by the apparent neglect of her parents. Her world view has changed rapidly:

After about twenty minutes Mum lights a cigarette and ashes out the window. The ash whips back into my face. This morning I thought the least your mother could do is feed you, now I think the very least your mother can do for you is not to flick hot ashes into your face.

In the end Brugman delivers a more hopeful ending than expected, but this story needed a soft landing.

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