Editorial note: I received a copy of A Good Neighborhood in exchange for a review.
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler is one of the most anticipated books of 2020. A very powerful book but it was also deeply unsettling.
Do you read books for pure escapism? Or do you want to learn something and have it be thought-provoking? I like both type of stories—ones that take you to another place but I also really enjoy the more grounded reads that cover real topics people deal with every day.
As I write this review, we’re social distancing. So life is very different and the future is somewhat uncertain. How long will we need to stay at home? When will it be safe to go back to “normal?” Taking a break from the news is crucial and so I turn to reading more than I watch TV or movies.
A Good Neighborhood is one I’ve been looking forward to it and knew it would be a fit for book clubs. The domestic stories tend to be good ones for discussions like Little Fires Everywhere and All We Ever Wanted. A Good Neighborhood definitely falls in line with those stories.
First, the synopsis:
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 Greek Tragedy
So I loved the writing style—the author Therese Anne Fowler tells it in such an interesting way. It’s a modern day Greek Tragedy and it’s told through the Greek chorus, or in this case it seems to be neighbors of the main characters. That writing style is equal parts familiar but also unique. And while no spoilers here, there are some intense events that happen that are hinted at but you just don’t know exactly what they’re warning you about until it happens.
The modern twist of the Greek Tragedy keeps the story fresh as it covers familiar themes: the effects of class, race and young love.
Race and class relations
You can tell the author put much thought and care in how she presented the story. She is upfront with the fact that she’s a white woman who wrote the perspectives of two African American characters. She also wrote the perspective of several Caucasian characters.
It also covers wealth, “new money,” and perceived power. Religion is a focus and how it can be used to manipulate and also provide a mask for ill actions.
But the heart of the story is an interracial relationship between two high schoolers. And while love isn’t blind, they fall for each other, in the way that high schoolers do, completely and without thinking about any potential consequences. And unfortunately, when it comes to their families—there’s a lot of conflict.
A good but hard story
So you can see there’s plenty going on and it’s all weaved together in an interesting way. When the story started, I could tell the story was going in the Greek Tragedy area, I almost put it down. Life is complicated with social distancing and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to dive into an upsetting read. However, the writing is SO good that I kept going.
But when I finished it, I felt deflated a bit. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this is a hard story and the reason why is because it felt so realistic and that is the most heartbreaking thing of all. Maybe what’s happening in the world will allow us to reset but there’s a lot of injustice that is still happening in the world.
So here’s where I am—this is a very impactful read but it’s a hard one. If you want to read someone lighter during this social distancing era, I would put A Good Neighborhood aside for another time. But I know some people can read or watch any subject now and if you’re in that category, give this one a try.
Check out my book club questions here.