Title: A Good Neighbourhood
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Published: March 10th 2020
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars
In Oak Knoll, a tight-knit North Carolina neighbourhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door – an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenage daughter.
With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard.
But as they fight, they fail to notice that there is a romance blossoming between their two teenagers. A romance that will challenge the carefully constructed concepts of class and race in this small community. A romance that might cause everything to shatter…
‘This story formed itself in my mind long before I felt ready to write a word of it. A Good Neighbourhood is very different from the historical novels I am known for, and to change course would be a career risk. Yet these characters and their intertwined fates, the story of their conflicts and the fallout that ensues, felt urgent to me. To write their story felt necessary, a kind of activism in our troubled and troubling times.
Therese Anne Fowler, Acknowledgements, A Good Neighbourhood
A novel for our times and a portrait of contemporary suburban life in America, A Good Neighbourhood is the latest release from Thesese Anne Fowler. A novel that challenges perceptions of race, class, love and civic participation, A Good Neighbourhood is stimulating book that incites much thought.
A Good Neighbourhood introduces the reader to Oak Knoll, a small neighbourhood in the suburbs of North Carolina. It is the home to professor Valerie, who specialises in ecology. Valerie is a single mother, who is raising her intelligent and musically gifted teen son alone. Things change for Valerie when a new family arrive and move in next door. This middle class white family has wealth and position, but they are also dealing with their wayward daughter teenage daughter. Soon after the Whitman family settle in Oak Knoll, a dispute arises between the neighbours involving an oak tree. As a war ensues between the residents, they fail to see that a romance is developing between their teens. This forbidden romance will splinter the little community fold of Oak Knoll.
Therese Anne Fowler is best known to me for her historical novels. I was drawn to A Good Neighbourhood as I was interested to see how this author would approach a completely different genre to her usual trope. Fowler takes quite a big chance in A Good Neighbourhood. Not only is this new book a departure from her previous writing, it also tackles some big subjects. I really wanted to enjoy this book and while I appreciated the author’s intent, it didn’t quite make its mark on me.
What I did appreciate first of all about A Good Neighbourhood was the depiction of the setting base. Oak Knoll is well rendered by the author through her descriptions of this location, which flow from the first page. Although Fowler chooses to spotlight a small community in North Carolina, the suburban and everyday feel of this setting, allows the reader to see that the events that occur in Oak Knoll could very easily transpire in their own neighbourhood. This is due to the strong representation of Oak Knoll provided by Therese Anne Fowler.
Fowler’s characters are carefully presented. Structurally, the novel takes an omnipresent narrator and this format makes us feel as though we are viewing these protagonists from quite a distance. I felt somewhat detached from them. For contrast, we see inside the lives of a white middle class family and a single parent family with a biracial son. These divided families provide plenty of opposition and we see the events of the novel from both sides of the fence. It is always difficult tackling the topic of race relations, but I think Fowler treads delicate ground with empathy and a perceptive lens. Fowler also draws in issues of class, higher education, gender inequality, loss, sexual relations and the environment. The topics raised in A Good Neighbourhood would be ideal for book clubs to discuss.
A Good Neighbourhood is a novel that reflects our current mindset. Therese Anne Fowler’s latest queries race, position, choice, gender and class in an issued based format. Fans of Jodi Picoult may find A Good Neighbourhood of interest.
A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler is published by Hachette Australia on March 10th 2020. $32.99.
To learn more about the author of A Good Neighbourhood, Therese Anne Fowler, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.