Summary and book reviews of A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood

by Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler X
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 384 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1

An upscale new house in a simple old neighborhood. A girl on a chaise beside a swimming pool, who wants to be left alone. We begin our story here, in the minutes before the small event that will change everything. A Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them. Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly about who's to blame. They'll challenge attendees to say on-camera whose side they're on.

For the record: we never wanted to take sides.

* * *

Juniper Whitman, the poolside girl, was seventeen. A difficult age, no question, even if you have everything going for you—which it seemed to us she did. It's trite to say appearances can be deceiving, so we won't say that. We'll say no one can be known by only what's visible. We'll say most of us hide what troubles and confuses us, displaying instead the facets we hope others will approve of, the parts we ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Early in the novel, Juniper considers: "What, she wondered, made a neighborhood good? To her parents, good seemed to mean there were mainly other people like themselves" (pg. 50). What do you think makes a "good" neighborhood, and is Oak Knoll one of them? As new houses are built in older, existing neighborhoods, do you think that changes the feel and culture of a place?
  2. Do you view the Whitman family as genuinely Christian, or is religion primarily a tool for Julia and Brad? Can both things be true at the same time?
  3. For Valerie, "tending her plants was her therapy" (pg. 7). What about the natural world does Valerie take comfort in? What does Valerie's dying oak tree come to represent for her? With that in mind, do you think her ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A Good Neighborhood is an up-to-the-minute story packed with complex issues including celebrity culture, casual racism, sexual exploitation and environmental degradation. Fowler may not be subtle with her message, but everything that happens is realistic in the context of recent American history, and she's right to imply that the post-racial society we might like to think we live in is still mostly a myth...continued

Full Review (744 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Racism is depicted much like death or pregnancy, in that it is an all-or-nothing, binary state of being...This binary may make sense in the comforting world of A Good Neighborhood but it reveals little about the world we live in, where good intentions often nourish white supremacy, the way sugar feeds yeast...A Good Neighborhood is a pitch-perfect example of how literary endeavors of allyship — not to be confused with indictments of systemic oppression — can limit a novel’s understanding of human behavior.

Washington Post
[W]hat Fowler has executed is a book in which the black characters are thoughtfully rendered and essential to the story being told. Valerie and Xavier’s perspectives enrich and complicate a larger narrative about prejudice and how it can infiltrate even the most neighborly and seemingly open-minded of communities. Despite these strengths, though, the pacing in the first two-thirds of the novel...sometimes idles amid a high volume of backstory and flashbacks.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Booklist
A rippling story for fans of suspenseful domestic dramas

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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.

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

Author Blurb Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light
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.

Reader Reviews

Melissa C.

A compelling, thought provoking novel
I read this book in almost one sitting. The author presents the reader with so many thought provoking topics/issues we face in today's society: racism, sexism, discrimination, violence and sensitivity for the environment. Some readers may not like ...   Read More
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...   Read More
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...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Tree Law in the United States

Neighborhood with Trees from Above In Therese Anne Fowler's A Good Neighborhood, a lawsuit over a tree precipitates a series of tragic events. It is not uncommon for a tree to be the basis of a dispute between neighbors. Fallen trees or branches often affect neighbors, but remain the responsibility of the person whose property contains the tree's trunk. If the trunk is on the line between two properties, though, it is considered a "boundary tree" and both parties share responsibility for it.

Tree law, which in the U.S. is set at the state or local level, addresses questions such as how many trees someone can plant, what regulations there are on the cutting down of trees, whether a tree is actually on government-owned land and so on. Other issues that might be brought to...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Therese Anne Fowler

If you liked A Good Neighborhood, try these:

  • Pew jacket

    Pew

    by Catherine Lacey

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More books by this author

    A figure with no discernible identity appears in a small, religious town, throwing its inhabitants into a frenzy.

  • Little Fires Everywhere jacket

    Little Fires Everywhere

    by Celeste Ng

    Published 2019

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Winner of the 2017 BookBrowse Fiction Award

    From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free

Discover books that
entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Light of Days
    The Light of Days
    by Judy Batalion
    Renia, Sarah, Zivia, Frumka, Hantze, Tosia, Vladka, Chajka, Gusta, Hela, Bela, Lonka, Tema, Chasia, ...
  • Book Jacket: Hummingbird Salamander
    Hummingbird Salamander
    by Jeff VanderMeer
    In Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanderMeer weaves cybersecurity, bioterrorism, wildlife trafficking ...
  • Book Jacket: The Women of Chateau Lafayette
    The Women of Chateau Lafayette
    by Stephanie Dray
    The Women of Chateau Lafayette, Stephanie Dray's latest work of historical fiction, revolves around ...
  • Book Jacket: Windhall
    Windhall
    by Ava Barry
    Ava Barry's debut mystery novel Windhall is centered around the salacious murder of a starlet named ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Of Women and Salt
    by Gabriela Garcia

    A kaleidoscopic portrait of generations of women from a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to the present day.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Widow Queen
    by Elzbieta Cherezinska

    The epic story of an 11th century Polish queen whose life and name were all but forgotten until now.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Miss Austen
by Gill Hornby
A witty, poignant novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.
Win This Book!
Win The Beauty of Your Face

A New York Times Notable Book of 2020

"Stunning.… A timely family saga with faith and forgiveness at its core."
Marie Claire

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

It's N S O M N

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.