The Girl Next Door, by Amy Jo Cousins

>> Saturday, February 20, 2016

TITLE: The Girl Next Door
AUTHOR: Amy Jo Cousins

PAGES: 250

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in a series

When it comes to love, go big or go home.

Charles “Cash” Carmichael traded his high-rise condo and family-firm career for a job coaching soccer for Chicago’s inner-city kids. He’s adjusting to living on minimum wage when his young cousin, newly out and running away from home, shows up on his less-than-luxurious doorstep.

Angsty teens definitely aren’t Cash’s thing. He needs local backup, and there’s only one name he can think of: Stephany Tyler. Back in the day, the bisexual Steph was the perfect friend with benefits until she fell in love with a woman.

To his relief, his former friend steps up to the plate. Soon, though, Cash finds himself feeling the familiar need to keep her in his bed, and in his life. But Steph, burned by the ex-girlfriend and by the absentee dad she’s been trying to connect with, won’t risk her heart again.

Good thing Cash believes in leaving it all on the field. If he can just convince Steph to get in the game, there’s a chance they can both win.

Warning: This book contains ex-friends with benefits crossing boundaries a second time, several steamy encounters on staircases, copious discussions about gay sex from a “straight” guy, a shout-out to magic buttons, and an especially memorable going away threesome.
This is a New Adult title which sounded very promising, but ultimately didn't work for me. It's the third in a series, but that wasn't the problem.

Basic plot: Cash Carmichael is living in Chicago after making himself independent from his wealthy family. He's quit a pointless job at the family firm (where he was basically supposed to sit around and not do any damage), moved away and got himself a job where he feels he's doing good for the community around him. He can only afford the rent on a tiny apartment, but at least it's his and he's paying for it. He's pretty surprised when his teenage cousin shows up seeking refuge. Turns out the kid's gay, but when he came out to his parents they basically ignored it, did the whole "Don't talk nonsense, I'm sure it's just a phase" thing. Having heard stories about the time Cash brought along his gay friends for Thanksgiving, the kid decides he'll be able to help him and shows up at his doorstep.

Cash needs some help helping him, someone local, and who better than Stephanie, his old friend-with-benefits? Cash and Steph were in college together and shared some close friends (the heroes of a previous book in the series) . They had really good chemistry and after a while began sleeping together. They were explosive between the sheets, but the relationship, such as it was, ended when Steph, who is bisexual, fell for another woman. She wanted to pursue that relationship seriously, so she stopped seeing Cash. Now, some years later, that relationship has ended, and when Cash gets back in touch with Steph, they realise they still fancy each other madly and fall back into bed.

I felt like I should have liked this a lot more than I did. On paper, Cash sounds like a dream come true. He grew up as a superprivileged rich, white, straight, cis male, but he has recognised this privilege and taken action. He's making his own way in the world and through his actions he's trying to make the world a better place. He works for a charity as a football coach for underprivileged kids, he challenges people who make thoughtless comments (even his young gay cousin who is still so immature that he'll use the "like a girl" insult), he listens to what people from minority groups say and adjusts his behaviour accordingly. He's also super open minded about other people's sexualities. All good things.

The thing is, weirdly, his extreme open-mindedness felt like it was taken too far, like it made it easier for people to get him to do things he doesn't want to do. The scene where I stopped reading was one which it seems to me other readers have interpreted in a very different way, and was totally intended to be super hot and awesome. It wasn't to me.

Basically, Cash and Steph have been sleeping together for a while and they start talking about fantasies. Steph suggests a threesome. This would be one with another guy, and one where Cash and the guy would have sex with each other as well. Absolutely fine if that was something that Cash was into, or even intrigued by. But my reading of him was that, while he's 100% comfortable with the idea of gay sex, he's just not attracted to guys. And here's the crucial thing for me: it felt like Cash was so invested in his persona of this tolerant, open-minded guy who does not discriminate against anything, that he didn't feel he could say no to this without compromising this image of himself he had in his mind. And even worse, it felt like Steph was almost calculatedly taking advantage of this. I'm pretty sure this is not what the author intended, and like I said, it seems to me that it's not what other readers have taken from it, but it was the way I read it, and it made me really uncomfortable. I couldn't help but see Steph as somewhat emotionally abusive after that, and I decided not to keep reading.

I should also add that it wasn't that I was loving the book until that one scene. I had plenty of niggles. I was a bit annoyed by the lecturing. It's all messages I agree with 100%, but it just felt unsubtle and I could see the hand of the author much too clearly. Seriously, think Suzanne Brockmann (who takes it just about to the edge for me), and multiply it by 10. And then there was the sex talk. These people have no boundaries. Cousins clearly wanted to demonstrate just how comfortable Cash was with the sex his friends were having and with involving his own prostate in the sex he was having, but she went much too over the top. It all felt incredibly immature (which, I guess, given these people's ages, kind of makes sense). It felt like they were all going "Look how comfortable I am with sex!! Look how tolerant and open-minded I am!! Look, look, LOOK AT ME!!!!".

I'm very disappointed, because there was a lot I liked here.

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.


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