Rummanah Aasi
Oak Knoll, a tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood. Professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who is headed to college in the fall. Then the Whitmans buy the property next door. They are a family with new money and a secretly troubled teenage daughter. They raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace. The two 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. What does it mean to be a good neighbor?

Review: A Good Neighborhood is a thoughtful examination of class, privilege, and race. The book's plot is simple, two neighbors dispute over a tree, but Fowler is more interested in the broader scope that features tangled, complex situations and their eventual, heartbreaking consequences. Told through an omnipresent narrator, we are about to witness a tragedy in the making as the Whitmans move next door to the Alston-Holts. 
Valerie Alston-Holt, a widowed African-American woman and ecologist, raises her biracial son Xavier by herself. She is privileged to have a house in a peaceful neighborhood. Valerie feels very strongly about an oak tree on her property. She already has a poor opinion of her new neighbor, local white TV celebrity Brad Whitman, as the house he is having built compromises an oak tree on Valerie’s property. Xavier reminds her to give their neighbors a chance, which she accepts and lends an olive branch by inviting Mrs. Whitman to her book club. After racist and misogynistic microaggressions made by Brad, and learning of his step-daughter Juniper took a purity vow, Valerie is very wary about her neighbors and cautions Xavier.  None of this deters Valerie’s son, Xavier, a gifted musician and honors student who’s headed to college in the fall, attraction and pursuing Juniper. The tragedy is catalyzed when Valerie sues Brad and his builder for the damage to the tree. 
  The plot, though simple, is skillfully executed and allows the reader to delve into each of the characters's complexities and flaws. Though as readers we may not agree with their decisions and choices, we can understand why the characters made their choices and decisions. There are at times when I think the book played it safe, especially when discussing race and class, but just gutsy enough to get the point across. Some readers maybe be puzzled that a tragedy happened because of a tree, but it's important to remember what that tree means to Valerie, Brad, and our social awakening of systemic racism. This book would make a great book club discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, including racial slurs. There are also allusions to sex, pedophilia, and suicide. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Such a Fun Age by Kimberly Reid, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
1 Response
  1. I have this on my TBR shelf but keep not picking it up to read. I have heard good things though and reading your review helps as well.

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