Title: A Good Neighborhood
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published On: March 10, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: Physical & Digital Copy
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 is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door – an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.
Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different 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.
Told from multiple points of view, 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 star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
I didn’t love A Good Neighborhood as much as I wanted to. While there were aspects that I did enjoy, the ending left me unsatisfied. Let me break it down for you.
The novel is narrated in the third person by “the neighborhood,” an unknown, unnamed person or people. I’ve noticed other reviewers are put off by this, but I actually liked the distance. It set the reader on the outside of the action, just as the neighbors were, and effectively built-up the tension. It reminded me a bit of the role the chorus plays in Shakespeare’s works.
While I thought the characters were distinct–I didn’t get any of them confused–I wanted more from Xavier and his mother, Valerie. They seemed flat to me; I didn’t feel like I knew them well enough, or necessarily believed their actions.
This novel tackled a lot of issues–racism, classism, religious trauma, patriarchy, grief, gender equality, and even ecology. You would think that it might be too much, but the author handles it deftly, weaving them throughout the story. However, it wasn’t the plot or the story that I had issues with, it was the characters’ choices and reactions from said issues that didn’t seem to match with the character they represented. In other words, I wasn’t satisfied with the ending.
I do think A Good Neighborhood would make a great book club read–there’s lots to unpack and discuss. And I would pick up another book by Fowler–she did keep me turning pages.
On Bookstagram I created a hashtag for when I include a song that reminds me of the book I’m sharing, #ASongForABook, I thought I’d make it a regular feature on my reviews, too. This time I’ve chosen Youth by Daughter. The haunting melody perfectly reflects the foreboding that builds throughout the book, as well as the lyrics:
We are the reckless
We are the wild youth
Chasing visions of our futures
One day we’ll reveal the truth
Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with an advance copy.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
Have you read A Good Neighborhood? Or is it on your tbr? Let me know in the comments!