BKMT READING GUIDES

A Good Neighborhood
by Therese Anne Fowler

Published: 2020-02-04
Hardcover : 320 pages
5 members reading this now
12 clubs reading this now
1 member has read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members

“Therese Anne Fowler has taken the ingredients of racism, justice, and conservative religion and has concocted a feast of a read: compelling, heartbreaking, and inevitable. I finished A Good Neighborhood in a single sitting. Yes, it’s that good.” ?Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times ...

No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

Introduction

“Therese Anne Fowler has taken the ingredients of racism, justice, and conservative religion and has concocted a feast of a read: compelling, heartbreaking, and inevitable. I finished A Good Neighborhood in a single sitting. Yes, it’s that good.” ?Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

A gripping contemporary novel that examines the American dream through the lens of two families living side by side in an idyllic neighborhood, and the one summer that changes their lives irrevocably, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z and A Well-Behaved Woman.

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door?an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he's made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn't want to live in Oak Knoll?

But with little in common except a property line, these two very different 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. Told in multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today ? what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye? ? as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

Praise for A Good Neighborhood:

"A Good Neighborhood is my favorite kind of novel ? compelling, complicated, timely, and smart. With great humanity, Therese Anne Fowler imparts a full-hearted, unflinching indictment of a broken system and in so doing tells a story hard to put down and hard to forget." ?Laurie Frankel, bestselling author of This is How it Always Is

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

1

An upscale new house in a simple old neighborhood. A girl on a chaise beside a swimming pool, who wants to be left alone. We begin our story here, in the minutes before the small event that will change everything. A Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them. Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly about who’s to blame. They’ll chal- lenge attendees to say on-camera whose side they’re on.

For the record: we never wanted to take sides.

Juniper Whitman, the poolside girl, was seventeen. A difficult age, no question, even if you have everything going for you—which it seemed to us she did. It’s trite to say appearances can be deceiving, so we won’t say that. We’ll say no one can be known by only what’s visible. We’ll say most of us hide what troubles and confuses us, displaying instead the facets we hope others will approve of, the parts we hope others will like. Juniper was hiding something, and she didn’t know whether to be ashamed or angry or just exactly what.

This new home’s yard was much smaller than Juniper’s old one—not even a third of an acre, when before she’d had three. Where was she supposed to go when she needed to get away but wasn’t al- lowed to leave? There was hardly any space here that was not taken up by the house and the pool, and what space there was had no cover. There was no privacy at all. At her previous address, Juniper had liked to sit among the tall longleaf pines at the back of the prop- erty, far enough from the house that she felt like she could breathe and think. She liked to be amid the biota, as the scientists call it. It made her feel better. Always had.

But the builder of this big, gleaming white house had cleared the lot of the stately hardwoods that shaded the little house that had been here, the house that had been demolished without ceremony and removed like so much storm or earthquake debris. Except there had been no storm, no earthquake. There was just this desirable neigh- borhood in the middle of a desirable North Carolina city, and buyers with ready money to spend. Just that, and now this great big house with its small but expensive naked yard and its pool and its chaise and its girl and her book.

Juniper thought the rustling noises she heard in the yard behind hers, a yard that still contained a small forest of dogwood, hickory, pecan, chestnut, pine, and a tremendous oak that had been there for longer than anyone in the neighborhood had been alive, came from squirrels. She wasn’t fond of squirrels. They were cute, sure, but you couldn’t trust them not to run straight under the wheels of your car when they saw you coming. And they were forever getting into people’s bird feeders and stealing all the seed. Juniper had a novel in her lap and steered her attention back to that. The story was good, and she’d become skillful at escaping into stories.

“Hey,” said a voice that was not a squirrel’s. Juniper looked up, saw a teenaged boy standing at the edge of her backyard with a rake in one hand, the other hand raised in greeting. He said, “You must be our new neighbor. I’m about to clear out some leaves and saw you there, so, you know, I figured I’d say hey.”

His appearance was a surprise in two ways. Juniper hadn’t

known anyone was nearby, so there was that. But even if she had sus- pected there was a person, a boy, a teen like herself, she would have expected him to look like her—that is, white. Everyone in her old neighborhood was white. Instead, he was black, she was pretty sure. Light-skinned, with corkscrew hair the darkest possible shade of gold.

“Hey,” she said. “Yeah. We moved in yesterday—my little sister and my parents and me.”

“You all from out of town?”

“No, just farther out in this town.”

He smiled. “Cool. Well, I didn’t mean to bother you. Just, you know, welcome.”

“No bother. Thanks.”

If this had been the extent of it, if they’d been able to greet each other and then leave it at that—well, everything would have been a lot simpler for everyone. To say the least. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Early in the novel, Juniper considers: “What, she wondered, made a neighborhood good? To her parents, good seemed to mean there were mainly other people like themselves”?(pg. 50). What do you think makes a “good” neighborhood, and is Oak Knoll one of them? As new houses are built in older, existing neighborhoods, do you think that changes the feel and culture of a place? ?
2. Do you view the Whitman family as genuinely Christian, or is religion primarily a tool for Julia and Brad? Can both things be true at the same time? ?
3. For Valerie, “tending her plants was her therapy” (pg. 7). What about the natural world does Valerie take comfort in? What does Valerie’s dying oak tree come to represent for her? With that in mind, do you think her lawsuit was reasonable? ?
4. Race can be a sensitive topic, and it features prominently in A Good Neighborhood. How comfortable do you feel talking about race, and do you think this novel changed your perspective on the role that race plays in the United States? ?
5. Of her new neighbors, Valerie acknowledges: “I basically judged them from the second the chain saws started, and that bothers me. I try to give everyone a chance, or how can I complain when people pre-judge me?” (pg. 25). What assumptions do these two families make about each other? Which of these assumptions do you consider to be racist or classist? ?
6. Almost immediately, we are told, “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame. They’ll challenge attendees to say on camera whose side they’re on” (pg. 5). How does knowing that a tragedy lies ahead change your reading experience? ?
7. Who should shoulder the blame for the chain of aggression between these neighbors? What actions could have been taken by either family to tame the tension? ?
8. The "Greek chorus" narrative style makes the reader a part of the story, and complicit in the action. How did that affect your reading?Who did you believe the “we” was in the book’s narration?
9. Of music, Xavier says: “Classical was the one that made him feel beauty, and he needed that feeling to help him get through all the emotional noise in the world” (pg. 9). What role does music play in Xavier’s life? How does it shape his sense of his future?
10. “As our resident English professor would remind us, place, especially in stories of the South, is as much a character?as any human, and inseparable from—in this case even necessary to—the plot” (pg. 13). The novel is set in North Carolina. How does the setting inform the story? Do you think that attitudes and ghosts of history impact the characters in the book?
11.“How many nights in the past few years had Valerie waited up for her son, praying that he and his friends not be stopped by the police?” (pg. 17). In what ways are both Juniper and Xavier taught to protect themselves? How do each of them handle the sociocultural limitations that are put on their bodies?
12. Consider what Juniper’s early life was like when Julia was down on her luck. How does that experience shape what is expected of her, and the choices she makes (including purity vows, employment options)? What kinds of messages does she receive about the kind of woman she should become?
13. “As far as Juniper could see, Julia was all-in for all of it. Between Blakely and New Hope, she was making certain her daughters were groomed into angels-on-earth” (pg. 37). In what ways did you view Julia as a victim or as an accomplice to Brad?
14. Did you recognize your teenage self in any of the young characters in this novel? Like Juniper and Xavier, did you also share a strong sense of desiring social justice?
15. How is the love experienced by these teens different from more mature versions? Do you think Xavier and Juniper have good models for healthy adult relationships?
16. “She wanted her daughter to value herself more than she, Julia, had done as a teen, wanted her to see chastity as the thing that made her the boss of her fate” (pg. 88). What did you think about this notion that a woman’s “purity” is her “superpower”? ?
17. The book club in the novel is reading and discussing Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. How does that classic novel echo or amplify the action in A Good Neighborhood? ?
18. What scenes with Brad did you find especially upsetting to read? How does Brad justify his desires and urges, and did you understand where he was coming from? ?
19. Did you think Juniper was manipulated by her family and the police into reporting the “crime”? In what ways is her truth distorted by those in authority? ?
20. “If you are a black person in the United States, you live each day with the knowledge that this scene or one very much like it may be in your future. You needn’t have done anything illegal or have broken any rule” (pg. 218). Did this statement resonate with you? What other injustices does the author explore in this book? Did you find you further explored your own opinions on these hot button issues, or develop different empathies along the way? ?
21. How does the media coverage and news cycle contribute to Xavier’s fate? ?
22. What are your thoughts on the novel’s conclusion and Xavier’s choice? Do you think that justice was ultimately served?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by LoveOfBooks (see profile) 05/19/20

 
  "It was good, but the plot was obvious"by thewanderingjew (see profile) 04/10/20

A Good Neighborhood, Therese Anne Fowler, author; Ella Turenne narrator
Valerie Alston-Holt, a widow, lives in a modest house in Oak Knolls, North Carolina. She is a woman of color who had
... (read more)

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search


FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...