Excerpt from A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Good Neighborhood

by Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler X
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 384 pages

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Rebecca Foster
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Xavier raked the leaves into a pile and began stuffing them into the biodegradable bags Valerie bought from a shop where every item cost four times as much as its cheaper but usually toxic (in one way or another) alternative. Most of their cleaning, bathing, storage, and clothing products came from there. Between this expense and the gardening and Xavier's music lessons, it was little wonder there wasn't much money for updating the house, had Valerie been inclined to bother. We made fun of her sometimes—the way we did with our friend who'd gone so far with the Paleo Diet that he wouldn't even eat food made with grains unless that grain had been milled by hand with a stone. Valerie took our ribbing in the spirit with which it was given: affection, since we couldn't help but love a woman as caring as she was, and respect the way she stuck to her guns.

The new neighbor was still on the chaise by the glittering blue in-ground pool, still reading. Xavier liked the sight (of the girl, mainly, though the pool looked really nice). Though he hadn't yet had a chance to study her features, his initial impression was favorable. White girl. Really long brown hair. Pretty face. Plaid shirt tied at the waist, sleeves rolled up. Cutoff denim shorts. No shoes. Dark toenail polish—green, maybe? He kept an eye on her as he worked, and had the odd but pleasing sense that she stayed deliberately aware of him as she read.

"Sunscreen, Juniper," a woman's voice said. Xavier looked up from his work to see a woman coming outside through tall French doors to the covered porch, a bottle of sunscreen in hand.

Juniper.

The woman's hair was blond and long, but not as long as Juniper's. She wore it in a high ponytail above gold hoop earrings, which did not, in Xavier's opinion, go with the tight fitness tank top and shorts and tennis shoes, all of it in trendy patterns and colors that, if he had known about fitness fashion, he'd have recognized came from Ultracor's spring collection. She looked like a catalogue ad.

Watching the woman, Xavier thought well-kept, the term he'd heard some of the women use when his mother had her friends over for book club. While they always did eventually get around to discussing the book, whatever it might be, first they had the "graze and gossip" part of the evening. Lately that term, well-kept, was in the gossip part of the evening a lot, in correspondence with the increasing number of high-end houses being built nearby. The women tried to make it simply an observation, but Xavier could tell that it was a judgment, too. These women were all professionals: some were teachers or professors, like his mother; some were in public health or social work or ran a small business. None of them were kept.

Xavier liked to hang out with them, not to gossip (their business was their business) but to avail himself of the appetizers and salads they brought. They brought wine, too. Plenty of wine. He was eighteen now, old enough to die for his country and therefore old enough to have a glass of wine with his hummus and olives, his chèvre-stuffed figs, his lentil-arugula salad, et cetera, that's what they all liked to say. Xavier wasn't much for wine, but he would never say no to the so-called crack dip, a hot cream cheese, Ro-Tel, spicy crumbled sausage extravaganza, as far as he was concerned. He planned to buy a Crock-Pot for his dorm room so that he could make the dip himself and basically live on the stuff.

"Juniper," the well-kept woman said again, this time with annoyance.

"Juniper," Xavier said to himself softly, trying it out. Then he thought, Idiot. You got no time for this.

"Seriously, Mom?" said Juniper.

"On your face? Absolutely. Arms and legs, too. You have to take care of your skin now, or you'll end up spending way too much money treating sun damage later. Do you want to end up looking like Grandma Lottie? I wish I'd had a mom as smart as I am."

Excerpted from A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler. Copyright © 2020 by Therese Anne Fowler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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