In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who’s headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans―a family with new money and a secretly troubled teenage daughter―raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.
With little in common except a property line, these two families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
Book Club Questions for A Good Neighborhood
- The story is written in a Greek Tragedy style—we’re told there’s a funeral so we know something awful will happen to a character. What did you think about this writing style and how it gave hints of what was to come?
- Xavier, Valerie, Juniper, Brad and Julia all meet each other early on in the novel. What were your initial impressions of these characters? Did that change at all as the book went on?
- Xavier and Juniper are drawn to each other—let’s talk about their connection. Do you think it will simply teenager crushes or do you think they truly fell in love?
- Valerie sues Brad, their builder and the city for the destruction of the tree that is so significant to her. Let’s talk about how everything changed after that lawsuit.
- Valerie says to Xavier: “I’ve had a lot of practice coexisting with people who’ve got nothing but disdain for who I am and what I’ve done with my life, the choices I’ve made, the issues I supported. I don’t care if Brad Whitman likes me, I care about what’s right.” Let’s discuss this more in-depth.
- Julia comes from a trailer park upbringing and now married to Brad she can have anything she wants—as far as material possessions. But she turns a blind eye to Brad’s true behavior and nature. Do you think she should have sensed that he was a predator and focusing on Juniper? Or do you think Brad hid that side of him?
- How might have things been different if Juniper told her mother when Brad kissed her?
- Brad and Julia are very strict with Juniper—even making her take a purity pledge. Let’s talk about how Brad used religion to control and manipulate Juniper. Julia was strict with Juniper so she wouldn’t follow in her footsteps—let’s talk about that.
- Let’s talk about that purity portrait of Brad and Juniper—how did it represent their “relationship”?
- At one point, the narrator says that “Brad Whitman was an all-or-nothing kind of guy. In that way, he and Xavier were alike.” What do you make of that statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Xavier and Juniper are interrupted by Brad when they’re having sex—Brad and Xavier fight a bit. And then Brad manipulates the situation and gets the DA to file rape charges against Xavier. This happens in lighting speed and it’s all a ploy to eventually get Valerie to drop her lawsuit. Let’s discuss this turn of events.
- What did this show about the influence of money and power? What was the bigger message the author was trying to say in regards to the treatment of African American men in the justice system?
- We’re made to believe that Xavier shoots Brad, and he considers it, but he realizes he’ll be even more vilified in the media. So instead Xavier commits suicide. Why did Xavier think this was his only choice?
- What’s next for Juniper? What did you think about the ending overall?
What to Read Next
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for A Good Neighborhood! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions:
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Long Bright River by Liz Moore is an impactful story about the opioid epidemic and the complicated dynamic between sisters.
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.
Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid an engaging and original story about race and privilege. It’s such a popular book and for good reason—it’s so fantastic!
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times.