Updated: Sep 15
Each character is powerfully drawn and the story they tell us is poignant.
Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented eighteen-year-old biracial son, Xavier, in the established and gentrified neighborhood of Oak Knoll in North Carolina. Valerie is a professor of Forestry and ecology, and her she loves and cares for her yard almost as much as her son, particularly her eighty foot historic oak tree in the backyard.
Brad Whitman, a beloved local business owner with loads of money, tears down the older house and trees on his newly purchased property in Oak Knoll and builds a showplace home and pool they are most proud of. This showplace is directly behind Valerie’s house. Brad and his wife Julia, have two daughters Lily, 8, and Juniper who is seventeen.
The two families with little in common, soon find themselves at odds. First over the historic oak tree in Valerie’s backyard that is dying and soon over the blossoming romance between their two teenagers. How can these two families coexist in this neighborhood when they don’t see eye to eye.
“It’s in the telling of a tragedy that we sow the seeds—we hope—of prevention of future sorrows.”
A Good Neighborhood is a thought-provoking book that will stay with you long after the cover is closed. It is a story of class, racism, and first love, and a perfect read for raising bias awareness particularly in our current divisive culture.
The writing was interesting and the character development strong. Little do we know that we are about to embark on an emotional rollercoaster with these people. I cringed when Brad immediately assumed Xavier was a yard guy. I laughed at Julia’s attempt to impress the neighborhood book club with foie gras. I cried when Xavier hurt his hand, and I smiled at Juniper’s feeling of first love. You will fall in love with some of these characters and totally despise others. From the environmental conscientious Valerie to the slick and well-connected Brad, each character is powerfully drawn and the story they tell us is poignant. Definitely worth the read, particularly now.
Parts of the book are interestingly narrated from the first person plural “we” perspective. The “we” being the “the neighbors” in this good neighborhood. We know from these neighbors that a tragedy has already occurred and they are going to tell us the story of what happened. We are immediately hooked and want to know more about the story that is to come. It’s a story that divides this community and make us re-evaluate the definition of a “good neighborhood.”
Author Therese Anne Fowler, a white woman, was anxious about writing a novel with two black characters. This novel, she states “is a kind of activism in our troubling times.” I truly appreciate her effort. Fowler is also the author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (2013) and A Well Behaved Woman (2018). She was raised in the Midwest and moved to North Carolina in 1995. She holds a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and a MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University.
“A big surprise is that it was no surprise at all. If you are a black person in the United States, you live each day with a knowledge that this scene or one very much like it may be in your future. You needn’t have done anything illegal or have broken any rule.”
“Why couldn’t we see one another as simply human and pull together, for goodness’ sake? The planet was dying while people fought over things like who was most American--or who was American at all.“
Publisher Macmillan Audio
Published March 10, 2020
Narrated Ella Turenne