I was so excited to trade for an ARC of A Good Neighborhood and be able to read it prior to publication date! This novel by Therese Anne Fowler focuses on a small neighborhood in North Carolina and what happens when a family moves into the neighborhood, after causing an environmental uproar because of the construction & landscaping.
Valerie is a widowed Black mother of her biracial and talented guitarist son, Xavier. Xavier is wrapping up his time in high school and preparing to move across the country to attend a prestigious music school. Valerie is a professor of ecology & is deeply invested in her house & garden. After a long few months of loud construction and some tree damage, the Whitmans — Brad, wife Julia, Julia’s daughter Juniper, and their daughter Lily — finally move in. Juniper, entering her senior year of high school, immediately catches Xavier’s eye, and the two start up a relationship. Tensions flare between Valerie & Brad due to Valerie’s frustrations at his attempts to ‘update’ his home and new neighborhood.
The narrator of the story is a Greek chorus of neighbors, who are watching a slow unraveling of family secrets from the sidelines. You find out immediately that someone has died, and then travel back in time to see how all of the threads wind together and become detangled. The pacing felt a bit slow for the first and second acts, but really ramped up in the last third of the novel. Once you get to the end, you’ll feel satisfied about all of the groundwork the author laid down.
While this was a wonderful four-star read for me, I can’t help but wonder if the author was the best person to tell the story. This novel was reminiscent of Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age in that it dealt with racial tensions and the repercussions of prejudice. However, Reid is Black and can speak from that experience. Fowler is not. It again begs the question — who has the right to tell certain stories?
If you’re looking for a literary novel with wonderful characterization (though not necessarily likable characters) with a slow burn, I’d suggest picking up A Good Neighborhood when it comes out on March 10 from St. Martin’s Press.