Also by this author: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 10, 2020
Read synopsis on Goodreads
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Several years ago, I read a book titled Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. I described the reading experience as floating down a lazy river, for the story ebbed and flowed in a way that was, for lack of a better term, peaceful. When I learned that Fowler had a new book coming out, I was eager to pick it up and was expecting a similar writing style. I was wrong, but that’s for the best because A Good Neighborhood is a story that demands a quicker pace.
The book’s synopsis makes it out to be a simple story of two families who don’t get along while their children do. While technically true, the situations the author places the characters in are much larger in scope – and much more serious – than I anticipated. Tackling what it means to be a young black man in America, it’s clear that Fowler has a grasp on the racism that pervades our social and legal systems. Still, it’s impossible to forget that she is not a black man and her commentary stems from observations, not from being profiled, herself. This holds true for most novels, but it’s felt more acutely in A Good Neighborhood because it’s clear that the author has taken great care in her sincerity to get it right.
I want to call this a character-driven novel, but it’s just as much an issues-driven one. Though each of the main characters comes complete with a backstory and a slow unraveling of their many layers, most could be swapped out and the same themes would be prevalent. We can all point to someone whom we know that fits the role of the characters. There’s Brad, who is so steeped in self-righteousness that he doesn’t fully realize the impact his actions have on others and his wife, Julia, who is equally committed to holding up appearances, but for different reasons. Then there’s Valerie, a single mom to Xavier who is a passionate environmentalist committed to justice. But it’s their children, Juniper and Xavier, who serve as the anchors that the story revolves around. As the parents go to battle over an historic oak tree on Valerie’s side of the fence, their children embark on an adventure of their own that will have consequences no one could have foreseen.
That said, it’s easy to see why A Good Neighborhood is getting rave reviews. Conversations around how race and class play a role in the trajectories of our lives are both needed and prevalent today, so it surely strikes a cord with most who pick it up. Still, there were times when it felt as if the Fowler was ticking off boxes to show that she “gets it”. I don’t doubt her sincerity, but some of the commentary felt forced. In reading reviews of this book, I’m in the minority in feeling this way.
A Good Neighborhoodis a compelling read that takes on some of our country’s biggest failures head on. It does, however, assume that the reader agrees that racial inequality and class differences exist. It does not delve into how and why we got to this place, but rather it picks up in the here and now. While I would like to say that every reader accepts these basic truths, I know that’s not the case. If you do, then this could be a good pick for your next read.
Recommended for: Readers interested in novels centered around social justice but that don’t get too into the weeds.