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.
A Good Neighborhood
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 hope others will like. Juniper was hiding something, and she didn’t know whether to be ashamed or angry or just exactly what.
This new home’s yard was much smaller than Juniper’s old one—not even a third of an acre, when before she’d had three. Where was she supposed to go when she needed to get away but wasn’t allowed to leave? There was hardly any space here that was not taken up by the house and the pool, and what space there was had no cover. There was no privacy at all. At her previous address, Juniper had liked to sit among the tall longleaf pines at the back of the property, far enough from the house that she felt like she could breathe and think. She liked to be amid the biota, as the scientists call it. It made her feel better. Always had.
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.
Member ratings (12,983)
“The next...” begins most reviews that compare a new book to a past book I loved & voila! I’m reading it. I vow to never call AGN “The Next” anything because it deserves higher respect. That damn good
West Hollywood, CA
A powerful read. It’s a slow build but incredibly tense. You’re constantly steeped in a sense of dread fearing that while you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, the results will be expected.
I enjoyed this book. It was a slow build and wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it but I never give up on a story, and I’m glad I didn’t. A powerful storyline with an even more powerful ending.
It was an amazing read. There were twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I was constantly turning pages and couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolded. The characters were dynamic and engaging.
Mount Horeb, WI
When I started this book I did not expect to like it as much as I did. The narration from the perspective of the collaborative “we” was so unique, while the plot was heart wrenching, and engrossing.