Bob Whitman is famous – at least locally. He runs a successful HVAC business, and he has recently come into new money by selling an invention. Yes, life is good for the Whitman Family, who has used some of that newfound money to build a nice big house with a pool… right next to Valeria Alston-Holt. The Whitmans are white.
Valeria and her teenage son, Xavier, live a quiet life. She is a professor of forestry and spends her free time nursing tending to the plants in her lot; meanwhile, Xavier (a senior in high school) plays guitar, hangs out with his friends, works at a local grocery store, and is preparing to go to college. The Alston-Holts are black.
The two families start off cordial, but things go south quickly when a feud begins over an old oak tree in Valerie’s yard. To complicate matters even further, Xavier and the Whitman’s daughter, Juniper, start dating and quickly fall hard for each other.
The two families cannot seem to reconcile what is happening with the other. As the situation spirals out of control, each family digs in to protect what is theirs – but at what cost?
A Good Neighborhood is a story that explores the differences between us -race, color, class, culture – and how it affects our values. Using the backdrop of a suburban neighborhood in North Carolina, Therese Anne Fowler takes a deep dive into the question of what is a “good neighborhood” and the nuances surrounding that term.
I applaud the author taking on such a difficult topic. In today’s super-charged, divisive society it is not an easy thing to do. The book is as thought-provoking as it is billed, and I think it is stories like this that can help us gain some perspective.
That being said, in my opinion the author made a few choices that did not connect with me from a literary perspective. The first is the way the writing was so obtuse. Instead of presenting facts and circumstances allowing the reader to make his/her/their own judgments about the situations that arise, it felt too much like the author was telling the reader how to feel. In my opinion, that is not an effective way to get a point across.
The second issue I had with the writing was the author’s constant use of the word “we”. The story is told from several perspectives, but then there were times when parts of the narrative would sound almost like a fairy-tale by switching to saying “we” and “us”. I am of the opinion that this is a very purposeful decision by the author, that by writing the story in that way it would build the theme up even more; to me, it was confusing and made me wonder who the narrator was the whole time, only to be disappointed with that aspect of the story in the end.
Speaking of ends… this one had me emotional, which is very difficult to do. I actually had to stop myself from sobbing out loud, so kudos to the author on that front. Not that I was happy with the end, mind you, but that at the end of the story I cared so much for the characters that I was moved to tears says something significant about the book. It was impactful, for sure.
Despite its flaws, A Good Neighborhood is a provocative, insightful look at the ways we interact with each other and how our actions affect those around us. I recommend it for anyone looking for an emotionally challenging read.