A teenage romance throws two families into chaos, striking tensions between race and class in a quaint suburban town.
Good to know
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? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over a historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
Why I love it
As someone who happens to read a lot, the sign of a good book for me is whether I can recall the details of where I was when I read it. I distinctly remember sitting in my office devouring Miracle Creek cover to cover; the hotel room I holed myself up in while burning through Little Fires Everywhere; and the coffee shop where I was captivated by Ask Again, Yes. And in the case of A Good Neighborhood (which, by the way, is a must-read if you enjoyed any of the above-mentioned books), it’s not where I was but where I wasn’t: I may have faked an illness to avoid a group dinner so that I could instead finish this powerful and timely novel.
The story revolves around two families: Valerie Alston-Holt, a Black ecology professor who lives a quiet life with her biracial teenage son Xavier; and the Whitman family, the wealthy new neighbors who have moved in next door. The families come to blows over something seemingly minor (a tree that straddles both their properties). But what begins as a trivial argument soon sets off a series of events that irrevocably changes the lives of everyone involved.
A Good Neighborhood is incredibly well-written, thoughtful, and relevant. Fowler deftly explores race, class, power, and love in new and thought-provoking ways. If you’re like me, you might predict where the plot is headed early on, but knowing what’s to come only ratchets up the drama. Tensions arise, the conflict slowly spirals out of control, and in the end, we’re left with an infuriating and heartbreaking conclusion that will stick with you long after you’ve finished.