Review: The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Title: The Boy Next Door
Author: Katie Van Ark
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: January 6 2015
Source: received from publisher for review
Rating: 2/5

Maddy Spier has been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls.

Gabe can't imagine skating with anyone but Maddy, and together they have a real chance at winning some serious gold medals. So, he’s determined to keep thinking of her like a sister. After all, he’s never had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than two weeks.

But when their coach assigns a new romantic skating program, everything changes. Will this be the big break that Maddy’s been hoping for or the big breakup that Gabe has always feared?

The problem with The Boy Next Door lies with its length and the sheer amount of dramamongering for a contemporary novel. Sure, I expect a fair amount of tension and angst, but Katie Van Ark really.. exceeded.. my expectations with her debut from Swoon Reads. The book would be a whole star rating better if it was about 75 pages shorter and if half the narrative duo wasn't completely a waste of characterization. As it is with 368 pages, the plot especially feels thin trapped amongst the neverending drama -- like butter over too much bread, to take a quote from Bilbo Baggins. 

To be entirely fair, The Boy Next Door has good bones in its premise but the drama suffocates the plot and characters in waaaangst. In a teen novel, I don't expect everyone to be level-headed or to make the best decisions possible, but Mady and especially Gabe make terrible decisions with no other authorial aim than creating more tension and drama and delaying the inevitable. It's frustrating and moreover, it's pointless. For 368 pages We all know why we read a book like this -- for the swoons, for the makeups, but they have no meaning if too much time is spent illustrating just how ill-suited these characters are for one another. Give me something to ship if you're going to drag out the narrative for 370 pages.

At least I liked Mady moderately well as a character and a narrator, but I can't say the same for her counterpart and partner Gabe. He's an ass -- and not one of the fun redeemable ones. I mean -- having your best friend break up with girls for you? By pretending she is your girlfriend? Sending said best friend -- that you know is in love with you -- mixed signals for many, many pages? And acting like a complete ass when she tries to figure out what the two of you are? By doing the whole "secret boyfriend!" trope? That is no way to endear yourself to an audience.

Honestly, I don't know why Mady cared so much about this guy (go for Jonah, I say.) There's being an antihero or an unlikeable character (both of which I love) and then there's Gabe... who's just a jerk. I do wish that Mady had not been quiiiite so...centered around Gabe and what Gabe wants and what Gabe says and that the overall OMG GABE!ness had been tuned down.

I really wanted to love this -- swoony romance plus ice skating! Friendship to love trope! And while some of it was good -- Mady for the most part, the families surrounding Gabe and Mady, the storytelling was strong -- it just wasn't enough to make me love the novel.

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