The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Novels


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Book Jacket

A Good Neighborhood
by Therese Anne Fowler
4 Feb 2020
320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN-13: 9781250237279
Genre: Novels
Critics:
Readers:
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A gripping contemporary novel that examines the American dream through the lens of two families living side by side in an idyllic neighborhood, over the course of one summer that changes their lives irrevocably, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z and A Well-Behaved Woman.

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?

But 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 in 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.

"Fowler empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won't soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency...Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Fowler skillfully renders her characters and their experiences into an unforgettable, heartbreaking story." - Library Journal (starred review)

"The plot is skillfully executed, delving into each character's complexities fully enough that their choices make perfect sense. This page-turner delivers a thoughtful exploration of prejudice, preconceived notions, and what it means to be innocent in the age of an opportunistic media." - Publishers Weekly

"A rippling story for fans of suspenseful domestic dramas" - Booklist

"Therese Anne Fowler has taken the ingredients of racism, justice, and conservative religion and has concocted a feast of a read: compelling, heartbreaking, and inevitable. I finished A Good Neighborhood in a single sitting. Yes, it's that good." - Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by lani
not to be missed
This storyline is a real departure from Fowler's usual historical novels, but I think she has come up with a winner that could be adapted for one of Reese Witherspoon's movies. Book clubs will have a lot to discuss with the issues that are brought up in fast reading prose. The neighborhood was at peace with Valerie, a college professor of forestry and ecology devoting much time to her trees and outdoor plants. This single parent had a biracial son who was competent, mature and a senior in high school. Everything was smooth until the Whitmans moved in behind their property and tore all the trees down damaging the roots of her favorite oak tree, to put in a big swimming pool. He was the caricature of the swaggering successful business man who loved to emphasize his success with material goods. He also had a beautiful stepdaughter that had taken a viginity pledge until marriage. The story is told from the neighbors' perspective as if they are hovering over the scene, gossiping and commenting on the unraveling of events. Ugliness transpires, with lawsuits, violence, an unjust legal system, and an unwillingness to be colorblind. It is very much a reflection of today's America. May this book be another catalyst for frank discussion.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Helene M.
Characters Make the Book
Because of my work in a local bookstore, I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Therese Anne Fowler's newest book. Fowler has done wonderful work in drawing characters one can care about, or despise, or for whom one can wish redemption - just like people we know in real life.

The story encompasses so much of life as we know it today: changing neighborhoods, changing values, new money vs. old not-so-much money, visible priorities and hidden motives, young love and innocence, older love and some cynicism ...

The Whitman family, a newly married successful businessman, his wife and her teenage daughter, moves into Oak Knoll, North Carolina, and nothing will ever be the same again, as our third-person neighborhood narrator informs us as he/she walks us through what happened thereafter.

The Whitman's raze the home and trees on the property they purchased in order to build their McMansion. Their decisions impact the property next door, owned by a Ph.D. environmentalist and forester, Dr. Ashton-Holt, a widowed single mom raising her brilliant bi-racial son by herself. Conflict was inevitable...

I found myself hoping against hope in some portions of the book, cheering for different characters on different pages, groaning at what the foreshadowing hinted at. The conflict of values will touch home for almost every reader - the resolution of those conflicts will cause many readers to reexamine their own thinking ... it did for me.

I truly loved this book because the characters and the plot were so well intertwined - everything rang true to the last heart-breaking page. Recommended this book to my book club, and am eagerly awaiting its February publication date.

Therese Anne Fowler is the third child and only daughter of a couple who raised their children in Milan, Illinois. An avowed tomboy as a child, Therese protested her grandmother's determined attempts to dress her in frills, and then, to further her point, insisted on playing baseball even though Milan had a perfectly good girls' softball league. She was one of the first girls in the U.S. to play Little League baseball.

After a too-early first marriage and a stint as the single mother of two terrific (now grown-up) sons, she went on to earn a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing, both from North Carolina State University. Her first novel was published in 2008.

A book's fate is almost entirely outside its author's control. Some are published with a lot of marketing and publicity support, but most are not. After the publication of three contemporary novels, each of which sold fewer copies than the previous one, Therese faced a hard truth: her career was in a nosedive. Her editor at the time felt she should take on a pen name and try again with the same sort of book, but Therese was not persuaded. She decided, instead, to write a biographical historical novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, which was published in 2013.

Her books are available in every format and in multiple languages, and are sold around the world. Z has been adapted for television by Amazon Studios. A Well-Behaved Woman is in development with Sony Pictures Television.

Therese has been a visiting professor and occasionally teaches fiction writing at conferences and workshops. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and PEN America, she is married to award-winning professor and author John Kessel. They reside in North Carolina.

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