Review: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Title: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 311 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher


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, who’s headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans—an apparently traditional family with new money and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter—raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.

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.

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 love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.


A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler is a captivating novel with a poignant, timely storyline.

University Professor Valerie Alston-Holt is a widowed mom to her eighteen year old biracial son Xavier. They live in a quiet, close-knit community but the arrival of the Whitman family next door irrevocably changes their lives and their neighborhood.

Valerie is well-liked and respected by her neighbors. She is quick to rally support when someone in their neighborhood needs help. Valerie is also an avid gardener who spends many quiet days working in her yard.  So she is less than enthused about the noise and upheaval during construction of the house next door. Valerie is not overly welcoming when her new neighbors finally move into the million dollar home. And when she realizes the newly built house has damaged her treasure  oak tree, Valerie is ready to go toe to toe with homeowner Brad Whitman.

Xavier is a polite young man who is hardworking.  A gifted musician, he is focused on the next step in his life: going to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in a few short months.  That is until the Whitman’s move in next door. Xavier is immediately captivated by teenage Juniper who, much to his delight, returns his interest. Juniper’s family is strict, so the young couple are soon sneaking around to spend time together. With the careless optimism of youth, Juniper and Xavier are also making plans for their future.

Narrated by the neighborhood, heavy foreshadowing alerts the reader that trouble lies ahead.  A sense of foreboding hovers over the happier events that unfold alongside disturbing incidents. Valerie has a point to prove to Brad but she seriously underestimates his reaction.  His sense of entitlement is immense and he is quick to rationalize his unsavory  yearnings.  They are rushing head long into a tragic situation that culminates with a breathtaking tragedy.

With ominous overtones, A Good Neighborhood  is a riveting, multi-layered novel that is well-written and features a diverse cast of characters. The topical storyline is well-executed with Therese Anne Fowler exploring racism and elitism in a sensitive yet realistic manner.  I highly recommend this thought-provoking, heartbreaking novel that is an accurate reflection of present day America.

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