Oak Knoll is a quality neighborhood—a good neighborhood—in North Carolina. The neighbors know each other and support each other, so when a new house is built and a new family moves in, everyone knows it. The Whitmans have money, fame, and a daughter who’s hiding things.
Brad Whitman likes everyone knowing his name—and controlling everyone he can. Julia Whitman escaped her trailer-house-and-poverty-filled life for the safety of marriage, and she knows Brad was her way out and her key to continued wealth. And Juniper is tired of being labeled a good girl and doing what everyone else thinks is best for her—and she’s intrigued by the cute boy who lives in the house behind them.
Valerie Aston-Holt is an ecology professor and a single parent to her talented biracial son, Xavier. She nurtures Xavier’s talents and her trees with the same devotion, and when the Whitman’s new home threatens the ancient oak on her property, she knows she must act. When she discovers Xavier’s love for Juniper, she knows there will be complications. But even Valerie can’t foresee just how bad those complications will be.
This book made me angry. Angry because I believe this could so easily happen in our culture—and does happen frequently in a society that thinks because racism isn’t blatant and overt, it isn’t real. So, yeah, anger was my main response to this book.
I had a little bit of trouble with the point-of-view here, which was a Greek-chorus style narrator, and made the book feel distant to me. I also didn’t find the portrayal of conservative “Christians” (in the book, a Christian is someone who goes to church, and that is not accurate in the least bit) to be anything short of narrow-minded and biased. I have no doubt that some conservatives attend churches like those portrayed in the novel, but not all Christian churches are like that. In the slightest. And the ones that are, are doing people a grave injustice.
The issues the novel is concerned with are real and troubling and horrible, and this portrayal of them brings them to life and makes them personal. Solid writing, intriguing characters (except Brad), and a read I highly recommend, despite its one-sidedness in certain areas.
Therese Anne Fowler is a bestselling author. A Good Neighborhood is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)