Archetype: Character with a Disability
CW lifted from the book: The Girl Next Door includes a description of a sudden past death of a partner.
I (Tara) am a Chelsea M. Cameron superfan, so I was excited when Shana asked if I wanted to review this with her. Unfortunately, although there were elements I liked about The Girl Next Door, it ultimately fell a little flat for me. Shana hasn’t read Cameron, but her catnip is small-town romances where a character reluctantly returns to their hometown. She found this a slow, but relaxing read, with squee-worthy heroines, but an occasional overdose of cheesiness.
Iris Turner is back in her tiny hometown of Salty Cove, Maine and she’s not happy about it. She had dreams of making it big in marketing in Boston, but she couldn’t find the right job that would pay the bills. So, Iris and her Weimaraner, Dolly Parton, have moved back in with her parents until she can get her shit together. It’s not all bad since her next door neighbour Jude is hot AF.
Jude Wicks moved back to Salty Cove a couple of years ago and never told anyone why. She spends her days hauling in lobster on her boat and her evenings alone. That is, until Iris moves in next door. Dolly bounds over to Jude one day, kicking off a stilted friendship that slowly evolves into more. But Jude isn’t over the tragedy that drove her home and Iris is only in Salty Cove until she can find a way back out to a city. Maybe a summer fling is the answer.
Tara: The Girl Next Door is told in the first person, shifting back and forth between Jude and Iris’s perspectives. It was nice to get to know both characters so well, since I’m often left wondering what the other lead is thinking and experiencing when romances are told in the first person from only one perspective. They’re total opposites, since Jude is quiet and steady, and Iris is bubbly and high strung, and you can see that as it shifts back and forth. Jude’s chapters are lower key like she is, and Iris’s have a little more tension to them, which reflects her excitement or anxiety depending on what she’s feeling.
Shana: I had a huge crush on Jude. I’m a sucker for a strong silent type, and Jude was a sexily mysterious balance to anxious Iris. I don’t always love stories told from a dual perspective, but it worked for me here. Jude’s inner thoughts quickly clarify that her gruffness covers loneliness, and longing. I found the chapters from her POV very peaceful. The idea of being on a boat in the middle of the ocean, alone, sounds luxurious right now. Also, she crochets. Did I mention that?
Tara: I agree that a boat sounds luxurious. But her boat with the fish guts and hard labour? That wasn’t as appealing to me as Jude’s house, when she and Iris were redecorating it. I loved how they connected over that, taking road trips to check out furniture or painting over the old, dark walls to freshen them up.
Unfortunately, my biggest problem with this book is the pacing. It starts off very slow and I found it super easy to put down in the first half. That got somewhat better for me in the second half when things took a romantic turn, but even then it never really takes off. Like, is this book peaceful? Yes. Is it exciting? No. There’s no real conflict to it, which I often don’t mind in cute, fluffy romances, but something was missing for me and I’m still trying to put my finger on it.
Shana: I didn’t find it very compelling at first, but then I joined the Bad Decisions Book Club once the romance kicked in.
This felt like the ultimate millennial romance. Jude and Iris are both living in their parents’ houses and hustling between their main jobs and creative outlets (interior design for Iris, carpentry for Jude). Iris ends up working at the same lobster shack that she’s waitressed for in high school. At first, Iris and Jude are both pretty unhappy, and aimless. My tolerance for characters who whine about their lives and don’t try to change things is low. I was relieved when Iris poked at Jude to come out of her shell.
Tara: That’s a great point, because even though Iris is frustrated with how her life is going, she’s still hustling to turn it into something she’s proud of. And as much as she respects Jude’s boundaries, especially when Jude isn’t ready to talk about her past, Iris is still constantly nudging her along with meals and visits with Dolly.
Iris is attracted to Jude right away, and I can’t blame her if Jude’s arms and shoulders are even half as good as I ended up picturing. (This is where I want to put a gif of Emily Blunt doing an upward dog in Edge of Tomorrow and I’m kind of mad that it’s not on giphy anymore.) Jude resists her attraction far longer than Iris, which is understandable given the trauma she’s been through (yes, the CW is about her). However, and this is one of my other issues with the book, at some point it just feels like a switch is flipped and Jude doesn’t fight it anymore. I don’t know for sure why she stopped resisting it and I feel like that would have been more satisfying if it were explored more.
Shana: You’re right, but I will forgive a plot hole for a girl on a motorcycle. Iris couldn’t resist it, and neither could I.
What did you think of Jude’s hair? I was very confused by the conflicting descriptions of it as a “below her chin in a bob,” and “like a lesbian James Dean.” I consider myself a connoisseur of queer haircuts, but these two things do not go together for me. I decided to imagine Jude’s hair as a 1990s River Phoenix-inspired undercut, for my own pleasure.
Tara: Great point! Pompadours and bobs are VERY different! Honestly, I was too distracted by the whole arms thing to think much about her hair though…
Shana: Watching them start to fall for one another in alternate POV chapters was very satisfying. I enjoyed Iris’s goofiness as she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her crush on Jude. My heart overflowed with squee. I just wanted to squeeze their cheeks, and tell them to kiss already.
Iris’s parents provided some comic relief, especially their gentle matchmaking that made my heart sing. I found them very supportive of Iris, even as they’re figuring out how to treat her as a grown-up. Navigating adulting with your parents is hard, and I thought The Girl Next Door handled it with nuance.
Tara: Can we also talk about Iris’s dad, Kevin, and how freaking cute he is? He’s home full time with a permanent back injury, so he gets stacks of books from the library all the time. I loved seeing Iris’s surprise when she picks one of them up and it’s an f/f YA retelling of Cinderella. Go Kevin!
I also appreciated that the book delivers gentle moments of humour every so often. My favourite example is near the end, when Iris’s boss sees her and Jude on Jude’s motorcycle:
“Welp, everyone else is going to know that I rode your motorcycle,” Iris said.
“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” I said and she burst out laughing.
Shana: Iris and Jude’s playfulness was adorable. I would have liked more silliness, and fewer simplistic descriptions of their emotions. Them loving each other “more than all the drops in this entire ocean” was a low point. How was the cheese level for you? Are you going to redecorate your home with wall-to-wall inspirational quotes, like Iris did for Jude
Tara: I will not. The inspirational wall quotes thing didn’t do it for me. I don’t want to be a judgy ass about it, but that’s not my jam AT ALL. So, I may have ended up snark slacking you about it because I just couldn’t with some of the quotes.
Shana: I would give this a B-. I loved the wholesome sweetness of the love story. I was rooting hard for Iris and Jude, but the low-conflict storyline left me wanting a little more angst and a lot more plot. This reminded me of a Hallmark Channel movie with girl sex.
Tara: Honestly, I have a hard time choosing a grade for this one. I liked parts of it, but didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. On the one hand, like I mentioned above, the pacing is slower than I liked and I didn’t understand why Jude was suddenly all in with Iris. On the other, I liked that there’s a dog named Dolly Parton, the idea of Jude being so muscular really worked for me, Iris is a sweetheart, and Iris’s dad is adorable. So for me, I think this hovers around a B- too. If you’re really into smalltown romances or opposites attract, you might dig this one. If you’re not, then this may not be the book for you.