Do you live in a good neighbourhood? I think I do…. I don’t know my neighbours, but the neighbourhood is so peaceful and I love that. As far as my neighbours though….I don’t even know their names. We got new neighbours about 4yrs ago, and I have ZERO idea what they even look like. Is it just me? Or is this life in 2020? Anyways, A Good Neighbourhood is a book I’ve had my eye on, so I was glad when I received it from Jonathan Ball a few weeks ago.
What is A Good Neighbourhood about?
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 an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
Told from 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.
Characters and Story line
There are quite a few characters here….there’s Valerie and her son, Xavier. Then there are the new neighbours…The Whitmans, Brad, his wife, daughter and step daughter. The story essentially is about Valerie and Brad having some differences due to a tree (Valerie is a tree-hugger), all while their kids, Xavier and Juniper are falling in love. The 2 events collide and results in a very emotional ending 🙁
I am going to be honest here and say that I did not care for the characters very much. The one I felt the most for was Xavier. He seems like a pretty upstanding bloke, polite, driven and a good student. Also, he cares about his mom…I love me a mama’s boy! Brad Whitman is a Type A pig of a human being. Valerie I wanted to root for, but her character came across as lacklustre to me. On one hand she was portrayed as the type of woman the neighbourhood really cared for. On the other hand, I don’t feel like those neighbours were there for her when the going got tough.
The story is told by a narrator….and the narrator is the collective neighbourhood. They refer to themselves as ‘we’ and they are the observers. As the story progresses, they provide these interludes, which I found to be a bit intrusive and interrupting. As I’m reading….I just found it distracting as the narrator just interjects with a back story, that was usually a bit long winded.
That all being said though, there are so many themes touched on in A Good Neighbourhood. Race and class definitely at the forefront. It was uncomfortable to read, and it was also sad…..because this is real life. These predjudices and injustices are not a fable or work of fiction for many people. This would make a great book club discussion book, where people could really talk about some of the issues raised in A Good Neighbourhood.
A Good Neighbourhood has a Goodreads rating of 3.89 stars out of 5, which is a pretty solid rating. I would rate it at around 3.5 stars. I feel like the book could have been a bit shorter if not for those long winded interludes. However, this is a book that really made me feel a lot of things and ask questions…..so definitely not one that I regret picking up off my book shelf.
Disclaimer: A Good Neighbourhood was sent to me by Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Looking for something else that will tug at your heartstrings? Maybe check out my review of The Dilemma over HERE.