Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this unrequited-love story will appeal to fans of Jennifer Niven, John Green, and Jesse Andrews.
Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart?
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.
If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.
But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.
After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.
“This story broke my heart and made me laugh and gave me hope—and really, what more can you ask of a book than that? I loved it, and I have a feeling you will too.” —Jennifer E. Smith, author of Windfall and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
“In the blink of an eye, A Short History of the Girl Next Door goes from hilarious to haunting to harrowing to heartbreaking to hopeful and back.” —Jeff Zentner, award-winning author of The Serpent King and Goodbye Days
“Sharp, smart, and unforgettable.” —Kate Hattemer, critically acclaimed author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy and The Land of 10,000 Madonnas
“A powerful novel about first love, the intimacy of childhood friendships, and moving forward from loss.” —Publishers Weekly
“Pair this with other novels that explore loss from a male perspective, such as Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days or Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me.” —Booklist
“Reck gives subtlety and depth to Matt, so he’s believable as a flawed guy negotiating his way through his feelings for Tabby as well as his social status in school, his ideas of masculinity, and his insecurities.” —The Bulletin
“Recommend this to readers who enjoyed Steven Levenson’s Dear Evan Hansen.” —VOYA
About the Author
Jared Reck is a debut author. He received a Bachelor's in English from Clemson University and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Shippensburg University, and recently completed graduate coursework in McDaniel College’s Writing for Children & Young Adults program. He lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, where he’s an eighth-grade Language Arts teacher. Learn more about Jared on Twitter at @reckj.
Read an Excerpt
The Moment I Know It’s Over
I know it’s over when Liam Branson’s black Accord pulls in front of Tabby’s house before school.
I’m shooting free throws in my driveway, like I do every morning, waiting for the bus to deliver me to another memorable day as a freshman at Franklin High. It’s late October, which means the weather is perfect for my before-school shootaround ritual. Warm enough that I don’t have to shove my fingers into my armpits, panini-style, after every few shots to prevent frostbite, and cold enough that I’m not a sweaty mess when the bus pulls up.
I’m about fifty free throws in when Branson’s car rolls into our circle, going around and stopping in front of Tabby’s house, straight across from mine. I try not to stare too much between shots. But what is a senior guy--one of the senior guys, varsity starter on our Black Bears football and basketball teams--doing picking up a freshman girl before school?
He beeps his horn, and an instant later Tabby’s front door flies open. Tabby throws her book bag over her shoulder and jogs across her front lawn, beaming, looking amazing in that not-even-trying way that Tabby has--worn jeans and a T-shirt, her red hair pulled back into a sloppy bun. It’s perfect.
When Tabby reaches the car, she opens the back door--I didn’t notice Liam’s sister sitting in the front seat--and throws her bag inside. She looks at me over the top of Branson’s car and waves.
“Hi, Matty! See you at school!”
I give a weak smile and wave back as she hops into the car. Naturally, I brick my next shot off the side of the rim and have to chase the ball to the end of my driveway. I grab it just before it bounces into the circle as Liam Branson pulls away, giving me a lame peace sign with the hand resting on top of his steering wheel.
What’s my move here? Mirror back his peace sign? Smile and wave like a little kid? Stare him down so he loses focus and crashes into a mailbox? In my head, I give him a little nod as I turn and trot in for a casual power dunk, everyone in that car knowing who the man is.
Of course, I manage none of these. I stand there, holding my ball, staring like an idiot as Branson--and Tabby--pulls away.
When Branson’s car is out of sight, I dribble back and sink my next ten in a row before I hear my bus pulling up at the end of the street.
A Short History of the Girl Next Door
Okay, so technically she lives across the street, but whatever. And really, since we live on a cul-de-sac, it’s kind of across the street and next door. See how that works?
“No Tabby today?” Miss Edna asks as I climb the steps to board the bus.
“I guess not,” I say with a fake smile, heading down the aisle to my seat. Let her think that Tabby’s just absent.
Out of habit, I slide in against the window of seat eighteen and prop my knees up on the seat back in front of me. Then, feeling stupid, I set my book bag on the empty space next to me.
It’s not that I have anything against riding the bus. I really don’t, other than that, at my height, I don’t really fit into the seats anymore. I can’t drive yet, and I don’t see how I improve my image in high school by having my mom drop me off.
Honestly, I’ve always kind of loved riding the bus. There are no delinquent assholes on my route, so it’s usually pretty peaceful, especially in the mornings. Plus, we’ve had the same bus driver, Miss Edna, from the time my mom helped me climb the steps on my first day of kindergarten. Miss Edna’s gotten drinks and snacks for us every Friday since then--even the high -schoolers, who should be too cool for Goldfish and Little Hugs--and she always has the radio tuned to her classic-hits station. When I get my license next year, I think I’m actually going to miss it.
And the best part, up until today at least, is Tabby.
The school bus has always meant twenty minutes, before and after school, of uninterrupted Tabby time. Time that, until today, I’ve always taken for granted.
When my mom helped me climb those steps on my first day of school over nine years ago, Tabby was right there next to me, her Hello Kitty backpack nearly as big as her entire body. She flopped down beside me in the first seat behind Miss Edna, chattering away about what our teacher would be like, and what kind of toys would be in the classroom, and what the snack might be, and what the other kids would be like.
And that’s how it’s always been.
With Tabby’s mom already gone--she disappeared from Tabby’s life barely after it began--my mom started baby-sitting Tabby when she was just a few months old. And since my mom stayed home with me until I started school, Tabby was at our house nearly every day. She’s part of our family. Hell, she was at the hospital when Murray was born four years ago, crying right along with my dad when they let us in the delivery room to see Murray for the first time. Tabby and I were both only-children up until that point, and it was like we both got a new little brother with Murray.
When we were younger, my parents used to laugh at how I would just follow Tabby around, trailing after her like a giant puppy. Little Tabby would decide what we were going to play--her squeaky, high-pitched chef’s voice shouting out orders for our fancy restaurant, or the doctor instructing me how to take care of the stuffed-animal patients in our doctor’s office--and I’d follow right along, happily doing my best to please her, weaving in my own ideas as we went.
Following her lead.
In fact, it was Tabby who got me my first “girlfriend” in fifth grade. She’d decided one day after school that November that it was time for me to have a girlfriend, to which I thought, Okay. Cool.
“What do you think of Rebecca Gaskins?” she asked while we fixed a snack in my kitchen.
“Who’s Rebecca Gaskins?” I asked, a knot already forming in my stomach.
“She’s the tall girl with curly brown hair in my homeroom. She’s nice. She sits at my table at lunch.”
“Wait, did she say she likes me or something?” I was confused, starting to panic. I was only vaguely aware of who this girl was, and part of me could tell where this was going. Tabby’s plan was already in place, and, as usual, I was going to follow along, provided I didn’t wet my pants or pass out. And even then, really . . .
“Of course she did, Matt. So do you like her?” Tabby grinned, leaning across the bar in our kitchen while I pulled the bag of popcorn from the microwave.
“I . . . I mean, I guess.” My heart was beating faster now.
“Would you want to go out with her?” Tabby’s grin widened, like the hungry cat grins at the mouse in cartoons. What the hell was I dealing with here?
“Hold on, did she ask you to ask me out for her?”
“Don’t worry about that yet, Matt,” she said, brushing off my concern. “Would you want to go out with her?”
The simple answer was Yes, absolutely. Even though I had never talked to Rebecca Gaskins before, and the thought of talking to her now was nearly causing me to go into cardiac arrest, I did like the idea of having a girlfriend. I really had no clue what that even meant, other than that I would get to tell people that, yes, I did in fact have a girlfriend.
“Hey, Matt, you got a girlfriend?”
“Yeah, man, of course I have a girlfriend.”
“Awesome. Which one is she?”
“I’m not totally sure.”
“Awesome. Play on, playa.”
It would be like my membership card into this new grown-up world of awesome.
“Sure . . . I guess so,” I replied. “So did she ask you to ask me?” I said again.
“Yes! Perfect!” Tabby said, not really in response to my question. She hopped off her stool and pulled out her phone. She started dialing as she walked into the living room without me.
“Wait! Tabby, what are you doing?” I asked, following behind her.
“Hi, Rebecca?” she said into her phone, waving me off. “It’s Tabby. You know my friend Matt? Matt Wainwright? He rides my bus.” She paused, waiting. Then she laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s him.” (What the hell did that mean?) “So yeah, Matt’s my neighbor, and he wanted me to ask if you’d go out with him.”
My whole body went rigid.
“So, is that a yes?” Tabby continued, now looking at me and smiling, one finger in the air, as though I were about to interrupt her.
And then her final act of sadism.
“Oh, Rebecca, that’s great! Hold on, your boyfriend is right here. He wants to talk to you.”
My memory gets a little fuzzy at this point, as my brain and the rest of my central nervous system had completely shut down. I may or may not have shit my pants. It’s hard to say.
What I do remember is Tabby, bouncing back and forth on the balls of her feet, a look of twisted glee on her face, forcing her phone into my petrified hand. She lifted my hand up to my ear, like I was some life-size Ken doll, did some weird little dance, and disappeared briefly into the kitchen.
When my body forced me to start breathing again, the air escaping my lungs must have vaguely resembled Hi, Rebecca, because somewhere in the distance I heard her say, “Hi, Matt,” then giggle nervously.
Much silence ensued.
Tabby returned, popcorn bag in hand.
I think the most my brain could muster over the course of what had to have been twenty excruciating minutes was, “Uhh . . . So . . . do you . . . have any homework tonight?”
Tabby did this to me at least four more times that year, me following blindly each time.
Even through the last couple of years of middle school, when we started getting involved in our own separate activities and hanging out more with our own groups of friends, we had that time on the bus each day, time when Tabby could rant about her day or whatever was going on with her life, and I could just listen and make lame jokes to get her to laugh. Time where we could still just be buddies.
At some point, though, Tabby became more than my buddy. At least to me. I mean, she’s still my buddy, but every day it feels like more and more of a sham. Because while Tabby’s still happy to sit down next to me--where my book bag now sits--and give me daily updates on her new life in high school, I sit here each day, silently hoping for more. I’ll watch her lips while she talks, and my brain kicks into romantic-movie mode. She bumps into me, or puts her hand on my arm during one of her stories, and my whole body tingles. Then I overanalyze every little thing she’s saying, searching for any hint that she could be harboring similar feelings for me.
But as insane as I feel every day, our time on the bus together has become even more important to me. Now we’re in high school, and apparently older guys are taking notice.
Pulling up to the curb in front of Franklin, seeing Branson’s car already parked in the senior lot, I imagine the three of them walking in together, laughing, and I feel desperate, out of control.
I am completely in love with my best friend from childhood, she has absolutely no idea, and now she’s interested in older, more popular guys.
This sounds like a bad movie already.
This Movie Sucks
So why not just tell Tabby?
Why not just follow the script, and in some heart-wrenching scene--preferably under a streetlamp in the rain, where tears and raindrops stream down our faces as one--say something like, “Tabby . . . it’s you. It’s always been you,” and watch as my words take purchase in her consciousness, replaying all the moments I was there for her in her mind before she closes both the literal and the figurative gap between us with a kiss so full of longing and passion the camera has to turn away? Story over, right?
Well, it’s complicated. Which is why I’ve organized my rebuttal into three parts:
1. These movies? They’re all written by the best friend in love, probably while the person longed for is off getting busy with his/her actual lover. (Please tell me the universe did not just slip up and give me a glimpse of my future.)
2. How do you tell somebody who’s been your friend your whole life that your feelings have totally changed? That while you used to share a Blue’s Clues coloring book after school, and have burping contests until one of you threw up orange soda in your mouth, and argue over what names to give to your legion of Play-Doh creatures, you are now apeshit bonkers for her and can’t walk by her in the hallway without feeling sick?
“Hey, remember how we used to spend hours playing together in your sandbox? Wasn’t that so great? Well, now I really wanna go make out in your sandbox.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“It doesn’t have to be in your sandbox!”
3. Even if we eliminate number one and number two--say the best-friend-in-love movies are actually based on reality, and I find a copy of Telling-Your-Best-Friend-You’re-Really-in-Love-with-Her for Dummies in the library--there’s still the overwhelming problem of me.
Let me attempt to illustrate:
When we were in fifth grade, Mr. Holowitz had this handmade laminated sign hanging next to his whiteboard. All it had was “OTM ≠ OTM.” He waited for a kid to ask about it before he explained--that kid was Tabby.
“On the mind does not equal out the mouth.”
After smiling at our blank expressions for a moment, he then explained to us how fifth graders--as we started to mature and learn things that younger students could not--sometimes suffered from what’s called diarrhea of the mouth.
“As you get older, you learn that not every little thing that flits through your brain throughout the day needs to be shared with the rest of us.”
Excerpted from "A Short History of the Girl Next Door"
Copyright © 2018 Jared Reck.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Children's Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thought I was pretty tough and cynical at this point. A heart of stone if you will. But, even seeing things coming, I think I cried more during this book than any since A Little Life. Not bad tears. Don't let my tears scare you off of this. Rather, Reck explores something really important in an utterly real way. Maybe it's because volleyball and basketball games were the only real sporting events I went to and enjoyed in HS, if not every game, this felt like high school.
I need to start by saying that I absolutely love when contemporary books have male narrators. This book also had many things I like in any type of book, chapters on the short side, and an easy to read writing style that flowed beautifully. All I’m going to say is I did not expect where this book was headed and it made it a much deeper story than I thought I was getting myself into. I changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars for just that reason. I found it hard to dislike any of the characters in this book. Matt’s sense of humor was just perfect, I laughed so many times throughout this book, because of his witty one liners. He was such a great character. I also found Tabby a wonderful character, she was so sweet. Overall if you are looking for a fluffy contemporary you will not find it here. You will find a bit of fluff, but this book goes much deeper. I absolutely love this book and the rollercoaster of emotions it brought me. It was in no way predictable, which made me love it so much more.
This book really got to me. I mean there were tears with this one. Real tears! I almost never shed tears over books but this one got through my shield. I didn't really know a lot about this book going in. I saw the book offered on Blogging for Books and decided to give it a try without reading any reviews for it. I ended up really enjoying Matt's story. Matt and Tabby have always been together. Tabby lives just across the street from Matt and they have really grown up together. Matt's mom watched Tabby while her dad worked since she was an infant. They are really almost like family. Except they are not family and Matt is not thinking of Tabby like a sister at all. Matt doesn't know what to think when Tabby starts handing out with Liam, a cool senior. Tabby is only a freshman. Matt really doesn't know how to handle this new development. Suddenly Tabby has other places to be even though she still makes some time for Matt and his family. I really liked the characters in this book. They all felt so very real to me. Being a teenager is tough and I think that this group of characters did a fantastic job at really illustrating the emotional ups and downs in their lives. I also liked the adult characters in this book. I thought that they were very supportive. Sometimes that support was shown by remaining silent and other times speaking up. This book really did put me through a wide range of emotions and it did it well. I thought some parts were rather comical while others broke my heart. Some parts made me uncomfortable and other made me fondly remember my own childhood. This story really packs quite the punch. I would recommend this book to others. I would recommend that other readers go into this book as blindly as possible since some spoilers could really lessen the book's impact. This is Jared Reck's debut novel and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. I received a review copy of this book from Knopf Books for Young Readers via Blogging for Books.
I’m not sure how to rate “A Short History of the Girl Next Door.” If I say too much, it will take away from the surprise. I can say that it was a roller coaster of emotions that takes the reader from crying with laughter to ugly sobbing with heartbreak within the span of just a few pages. If you’re ready for some strong feels and a story that will stay with you long after you are finished, then I recommend it. This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
I wish the reviewers knew of someone else to compare YA lit too other than John Green. Yes, I've enjoyed his books, but his teens rarely sound like the way real teens talk. In this book, the central character Matt doesn't talk much at all, except to his two best friends, and that is much more realistic a depiction of a high school freshmen boy. Unrequited love shouldn't be so poignant when you know a 15 year old boy will fall in and out of love many times. However, it's the shared history between Matt and Tabby that makes his feelings seem so naturally arrived at and her apparent blindness to them so sad. I'm not going to reveal any more of the story other than to say it's boycentric and features a lot of basketball talk so male readers should enjoy it. I loved it and will gladly recommend it to our teen readers.