11 March 2009


by Alyssa Brugman

Random House Australia. Australian, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $19.95.

Girl Next Door is the MUST read for 2009. With the world in economic crises, children and young adults might think that it isn’t important to them. But after reading this book they may well think again. In our “throwaway” society Girl Next Door will hit a nerve with some readers, encouraging them to re-think their WANT lists.

Jenna-Belle’s life has been turned upside down. Her mother got a promotion with lots more money. Then her father thought he could start his own business so her parents borrowed heavily. They moved into a mansion house, with Jenna-Belle and her brother enrolled in expensive private schools. Then everything went wrong. Workers’ compensation insurance, indemnity insurance, superannuation, income tax, GST and the business not going anywhere.

Her mother finds out she is pregnant. Jenna-Belle’s father disappears.

Now Jenna-Belle has problems. Her mother rarely cooks so Jenna-Belle eats a lot of two-minute noodles and canned soup. She buys her clothes from second hand stores – that can be kind of cool except it isn’t when you buy second hand school shoes to wear to the really posh school you go to.

And Jenna-Belle doesn’t know where her father is any more. Her mother said he has ‘gone to the country’. Jenna-Belle’s thoughts run wild with where her father actually is. Dead, in hospital, prison.

Her mother is now renting out the spare rooms in their large mansion. The new lodger, Bryce Cole, introduces Jenna-Belle to another side of life. A life she never knew existed. And when the family finally gets evicted from their home Bryce is there to save the day. Or so it seems. Is he really helping or just dragging the family to somewhere even worse.

Jenna-Belle, her mother and brother learn possessions are worth nothing but family is everything. From rich kid to pauper – Jenna-Belle grows up very quickly and starts to appreciate what she has.

This is a story with a believable dimension of truth and realism. The hard economic kind. This could be a good warning to some and a wake up call to others. It’s a great reminder to appreciate what your family does for you. Well written, funny and very topical. Grab it while you can still afford to!


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