In the Neighborhood of True
When Susan Kaplan Carlton began to write In the Neighborhood of True (publication date: April 9, 2019; $17.95), she was inspired by historic events that had taken place in a synagogue where her family once worshipped. She never imagined that news in 2017 and 2018 would lend new relevance to the violent anti-Semitism she addresses in her YA novel. Partly inspired by the Atlanta temple bombing of 1958, In the Neighborhood of True is the thoughtful and provoking story of Ruth Robb, a young woman trying to fit in to the “in” crowd in her new hometown by hiding her Jewish heritage. Susan Kaplan Carlton’s past historical YA novels have been praised for their “believable, rich, likable characters” (Kirkus Reviews) and “important” (Booklist) topics relevant to teens’ lives. In
this novel of the 50s Jim Crow South, Kaplan Carlton’s gorgeous prose invokes a time filled with sweet tea and debutante balls as well as cross burnings and hate crimes.
In the sweltering summer of 1958, Ruth Robb and her family move to Atlanta from New York City after the sudden death of her father. A fish out of water and grieving, Ruth meets the ruling “pastel posse” and their little pink book of manners. She quickly falls for the charming and popular Davis, who teaches her about football games
and the Country Club, and is the perfect escort. Eager to fit in and to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a debutante, Ruth hides her Jewish heritage and her attendance at Sabbath services in a segregated Atlanta. Then a hate crime tears apart her community, and Ruth is forced to confront the prejudice head on and speak up about
Carlton’s family attended services at the Hebrew Benevolent Society, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue and a center for early civil rights advocacy, in the early 2000s. She says that watching her younger daughter volunteer “in one of the classrooms that had been bombed years before… stayed with me—the idea that the walls that held these kids had
once been blown apart by white supremacists…it became really important to me to write this book about a girl who comes to do the right thing even when it’s hard and heartbreaking.”
Praised as “riveting” (Kirkus) and “wildly relevant” (Barnes & Noble Teen Blog), Carlton’s novel depicts an endearing heroine caught between two very different boys and the choice to fit in or speak out, and vividly evokes the temptation to turn a blind eye to injustice in order maintain the status quo. In the Neighborhood of True will have you
immersed in its Southern summer, craving a Co-Cola by a picturesque pool with a relatable narrator, rooting for her to embrace her truth.
Read below for a full review of In the Neighborhood of True
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Author: Susan Kaplan Carlton
Release: April 9th 2019
Received: Review Request
Warnings: Racism, anti-Semitism
I received a copy of In the Neighborhood of True in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In the Neighborhood of True is the story of a young woman trying to find herself while also figuring out the values that mean the most to her in life. It’s an absolutely beautiful tale, and for a multitude of reasons.
It’s a historical fiction novel set in the 1950’s, and it’s heavily focused on the racism and anti-Semitism of the time. That alone makes this novel extremely important. What is more though, are the lines it draws between those moments in the past, and the present. It forces the reader to realize what is happening even today (and for those that are affected by anti-Semitism and racism it likely rings painfully true).
Ruth is torn between the world she’s built for herself that she loves, and the world she was born into. She can’t have it both ways, but for just a while it would be nice to pretend.
Warnings: In the Neighborhood of True is unabashedly about racism and anti-Semitism. A lot of the novel is pretty heavy for that reason, though no less important because of that. There are events that are uncomfortable, and events that are outright painful.
In the Neighborhood of True caused a tumult of emotions as I read, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that fact. There are novels that open your eyes to what is important, and this is one of them. This novel draws connections between racism and anti-Semitism, connections between the past and the present. It all becomes unavoidable and undeniable.
I particularly loved how the novel started. I don’t always love it when a novel begins with a point later on, but in this case it worked out really well. It gave us a hint to where Ruth’s character was leading, and left us with more questions than answers. Naturally we couldn’t do anything other than continue reading.
Ruth is a strong and fascinating character. It was impossible not to be fond of her – especially when it was so easy to see how torn she was. She had an extremely difficult choice to make, no matter how much we’d like to overlay our own opinions on the matter. The truth is that while it may appear black and white to people on the outside, that sort of decision isn’t always easy. And I don’t blame her for her struggle, or for her need to fit in or go for what she wants.
That’s actually what made this novel so human. There were so many complex situations and emotions being thrown around, but it never surpasses what a single person experiences in their lifetime, if that makes any sense. Everything that happened in this novel was perfectly believable, because it happens so frequently.
I can honestly say that this was the first novel I read that delved so heavily into anti-Semitism and Jewish culture while not being set during the Holocaust. First, that says that I need to do some digging for more books of this nature. And second, it means that this book will forever hold a special place in my heart. So thank you, Susan Kaplan Carton, for that.
I think my one and only complaint about this novel would be that it was a tiny bit too predictable for my liking. I enjoyed reading about the situations and characters, even as I sort of had a feeling about where everything was going to lead in the end. As far as complaints go though, that’s not a very big one.
I can’t wait to see what Susan Kaplan Carlton comes out with next. Her writing style alone would have me interested in reading anything else she publishes. I’m looking forward to seeing what it will be.