In Kate Palmer’s novel, “The Guy Next Door,” Eva, a Mormon woman in her late 20s, is engaged to the man of any girl’s dreams. Her life is planned and compartmentalized neatly: after the school year of teaching is finished, she’ll marry Sean, they will start a family and she’ll then become a full-time wife and mom.
Before becoming engaged, Eva moved to Ephraim, Utah, to be closer to her sister, her only immediate family member still alive. But after a fatal car accident, Eva becomes an unconventional mother by accepting guardianship of her late sister’s baby, Melody. Without hesitation, Eva embraces Melody as her own daughter, but her fiancé is less than enthusiastic about it.
Sean is handsome, sturdy and a pillar to lean on. He’s dependable, but self-absorbed with his picture-perfect idea of life. Rather than embracing Melody as his future daughter, he sees her as something that will get in the way of his relationship with Eva.
Then Peter enters the picture. He’s her mysterious neighbor who never seems to be home, but when he is he’s attentive, kind and always giving her a hand with Melody, while giving Eva a sense of comfort she hasn’t felt before.
When her relationship with Sean hits rock bottom, Eva lets Peter into her heart. But extenuating circumstances take Peter away for a long period of time and Sean finds a way back into her life.
Faced with choosing between the two men, Eva must follow her heart to where her strong testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints guides her. Eva’s internal dialogues are trickled with her never-wavering faith. Eternal companionship and family are her priorities, and she never backs down from those values.
Palmer writes beautifully, with carefully crafted sentences, paragraphs and chapters. She paints vivid pictures that translate to perfect descriptions of feelings like torment, sadness, love and comfort. The story flows freely, without a glitch or lull in the plot.
On the surface, Palmer’s novel is a simple love story of a girl torn between two very different men. But Eva’s choice between Peter and Sean is only the surface of Palmer's message for her readers: above all else, it’s family that matters the most, whether that family is biological or circumstantial.
Throughout the novel, each chapter is a piece of the puzzle to answer her ultimate question, “When your family is gone, how do you create that closeness with others?"