See, what happened was, our lives were going really well. My mum got a promotion. I enrolled in an A-list school, and then my Dad had this great idea to start an empire. But now he’s ‘gone to the country’. What does that mean? Is it the same place they take old, sick dogs? Has he joined a cult? It’s been two months now, and I still don’t know what it means.
Declan, the boy next door, says that my dad’s in hospital, but everyone’s dying as far as Declan is concerned. Now there are strange people living in our spare rooms, and all my stuff is on the lawn. I’ve tried to raise it with my mum, but she talks to me as if I am a four-year-old – when she talks to me at all, which is less and less lately. Hello! Can somebody tells me what’s going on?
Jenna-belle’s life used to be wonderful. Her parents had plenty of money, they’d moved into a big house and Jenna and her brother were enrolled in A list schools. Then things started to change. First her mother announced she was pregnant, then her dad disappeared from their lives – gone to the country, so Mum says. With no money to keep up with the mortgage and the school fees, everything is gradually being sold, and the spare rooms are being rented by strangers.
Jenna-belle’s only friends are Declan, the boy next door ( who is convinced that he’s dying), and the new boarder, Bryce Cole, a chronic gambler. But even they can’t help when Jenna-belle is kicked out of school for non payment of fees, threatened by debt collectors looking for Bryce, and eventually left homeless when the family is evicted from their home. Jenna-belle knows her life is spiralling out of control, but doesn’t know where to turn for help. Dad is absent and Mum seems unable to face reality. Bryce Cole offers support – but only when he’s not gambling. When Jenna-Belle and her family find themselves on the street, it seems there is no hope for a turnaround.
Girl Next Door is a timely novel, given the increasing pressure many families find themselves under in 2009. More than a million Australians are believed to be under mortgage stress, and this novel examines the issue through exploring its destructive impact on one family. There are other issues here – family breakdown, infidelity, gambling addiction and teen illness included – but the overriding one is what happens when a family can no longer afford the lifestyle they are used to. Author Brugman manages to explore these weighty issues with a voice which is also able to be humorous, as Jenna-belle manages to see the wryly funny aspects of her train-wreck life. Teen readers will be drawn in by this voice and become increasingly engaged with a character who develops and grows through the course of the novel.
A gripping, brilliant read for teens.
Girl Next Door, by Alyssa Brugman
Random House, 2009
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