I’m back with another blog tour and this time it’s for In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton. Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for asking me to take part in it!
Thanks to NetGalley, Algonquin Young Readers for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review
Goodreads: In the Neighborhood of True
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: 07 July 2020 (PBK pub)
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Own Voices
A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.
Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.
“We’re sometimes fooled into thinking hatred doesn’t happen here because the magnolias are in bloom. But hatred cannot be hidden.”
I’m still trying to work out how I feel about this book so my thoughts in this review might be a little scattered. When I finally picked this up, I didn’t actually remember the synopsis but I’m kind of glad that I went into it blind. CW: This book covers very heavy and sensitive topics including antisemitism, racism, bigotry, lynching, and cross burning, so please read with caution.
Although this book is set in the late 50s/early 60s, it’s unfortunate that these issues are still very relevant in today’s society. Reading these kinds of books that show how systemic these issues are always makes me question just how much we’ve really progressed as a society. Of course the majority of these books are written about America but in other Western countries and even in Asian countries, these issues have taken shape in their own way; and they’re always so easily swept under the rug. But I digress. This book is targeted at young adults and I think it provides a good platform for introspection especially to those who struggle with their identity and with wanting or needing to be accepted. It’s not perfect, but I think this book touches on these important issues well enough to start a good discussion about them.
“No, I wanted you to see the beauty side by side with ugliness. If one of these nights you see a flicker on this mountain–[…]–you need to know along with organdy and happiness, there’s a hatred we can’t look away from.”
Carlton does a good job in portraying the confusion of identity and the longing to be part of something more, especially when how you look already sets you so far apart from your peers. While I can’t say that Ruth was a particularly likeable character, her desperation to feel some sort of normalcy after her life was upended when her father passed and they moved from New York to Atlanta, was palpable. I think Ruth’s situation, the one of being who you are vs wanting desperately to fit in, is a universal experience that not only many young adults will be able to relate to, but one that adults are likely to have experienced at some point in as well. Part of me strongly disliked her for her wilful ignorance and naïveté, but I think that also made her more realistic because at that age sometimes nothing is more important than being accepted. None of the other characters particularly grew on me and we don’t get to learn much about any of them, although I did like Ruth’s sisters, Nattie (younger) and Sara (older).
“He reminded us that we were a small part of a larger story of hate, that all along, the clock had been ticking. And now the alarm rang for us.”
One of the issues I had with this book was that there was a lot of information, and important topics were covered, but it could’ve had more. I’m not explaining it well, but I felt as if there was just enough to cover the surface and to start probing at some deeper questions, but if the pace was faster and the big event happened earlier, it would’ve given more room to explore the implications of the event on the community and on Ruth herself. Books covering these issues also generally tend to make me feel very emotional but despite feeling a general sadness/ anger/ frustration at what I was reading, I felt little attachment to the story/characters.
“Don’t bend who you are to fit with the pre-deb girls or this boy with the balloon.”
This was also the case with the romance because there was never anything more than necking with these two–which, I mean, I understand getting swept away by hormones and all that, but I didn’t feel the “falling in love” that Ruth experienced. I wished there was more showing than telling! Unsurprisingly given the heavy topics covered including the characters grieving a big loss, this book left me feeling quite melancholy. That said, I believe the topics need to continue being discussed, especially through more own voices stories. What I appreciate about historical fiction is that there’s always something more to learn; I knew next to nothing about the real life event that inspired this novel, but to learn even more the extent of violent and disgusting acts done to others was… harrowing to say the least.
Overall, this was a book that really made me think about our society and issues that will never not be important to discuss and to reflect on my own experiences with identity especially as a (former) young adult.
Susan Kaplan Carlton teaches writing at Boston University. Her latest novel, In the Neighborhood of True, has been named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and scored 10/10 in YOYA. Carlton’s writing has appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Parents, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere. She is also the author of the young adult novel Love & Haight, which was named a Best Book for Young Adults by YALSA and a Best Book by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street Books.
Have you read In the Neighborhood of True or is it on your TBR?