Title: In The Neighborhood of True
Author: Susan Kaplan Carlton
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
My Rating: ★★★★
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.
ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
“We’re sometimes fooled into thinking hatred doesn’t happen here because the magnolias are in bloom. But hatred cannot be hidden.”
Set in 1958, In the Neighborhood of True is told from the perspective of high school junior Ruth Robb. After her father’s death, Ruth’s mother moves their family from New York City to Atlanta – from a big city to a small town with big prejudices. In the time of the KKK and following the “War of Northern Aggression”, as the schools in the south were calling the Civil War, antisemitism is front and center, and Ruth and her family are very Jewish. Still grieving for her father and learning to navigate a world without him in it, Ruth now has to learn how to navigate a whole new world entirely: one filled with debutantes and balls, and where her religion is not only unwelcome, it is hated. Wanting to fit in and attend balls of her own, Ruth decides to keep her religion a secret. This works out fine – until hated hits a little too close to home. Now Ruth will have to decide who she really is and if she’s going to be true to herself. She will have to learn the difference between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy, and the difference between the truth, and being “in the neighborhood of true”.
I’ll be honest: this book took me a little bit by surprise. As a rule, I am not huge on historical fiction, but the description of this one captured my interest, so I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised! Loosely based on the 1958 Atlanta Temple Bombing, Carlton manages to tell an important story in a beautiful way. I absolutely adored her writing – I felt like it really transported me back to the times of debutante balls and magnolias. But I think what I loved most about her writing was how subtle it was. This book carries some heavy topics and events, but the book itself is so quiet: it really creeps up on you, weaving its way into your heart and tugging on the strings.
“Constellations were just a bunch of separate stars. They didn’t become constellations until you connected them, one to another. Like families, like sisters, like friendships, like prayers.”
I really enjoyed Ruth as a main character. She was very likable, and above all she was believable. As a teenager in high school, the battle between wanting to be popular and wanting to be yourself is something everyone can relate to in some way or another. I could really feel her internal struggles, even if I sometimes wanted to shake her. Her relationship with Davis is sweet and a typical first-love type of romance, even if it was a little insta-love. I will admit, however, that I never really shipped these two – he rubbed me the wrong way from the very first page. Too smooth, I guess? But what I can appreciate about these two together is how swept away Ruth was by him. As a teenage girl, your first love feels like the most important thing in the world, and I think that was portrayed really well. It’s easy to relate with the choices Ruth made and why she made them, even if they weren’t the choices I wanted for her.
Racism and antisemitism are up front and center in this book, and while I wish I could say these topics were dated, I can’t. These topics and issues are still so important and relevant in today’s world. I am not Jewish. I cannot speak for what it is like to grow up experiencing that prejudice. Which is why I think it’s so important for me to read books like this. In today’s world, where racism and antisemitism and hatred are still so prevalent, we need to learn and understand and spread acceptance and love wherever we go. And that will never stop being important, making this book, and the topics it discusses, so timeless.
“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.”
I did have some minor issues with this book. I already mentioned how I didn’t really go for Ruth and Davis’ relationship, but that’s a minor thing. The bigger issue I had was that I felt like the emotions were all just scratching the surface. These topics are so big and important and vital, and I cannot begin to imagine being Ruth and having to deal with the death of her father, moving across the country, hiding who she is, and having to make life-altering decisions about who she is and what she stands for. But I can imagine there would be a lot of fear, and anxiety, and stress, and a lot of that didn’t come through. I just wish the emotions had played a little big bigger role in the story.
That being said, I really enjoyed this book. I think it is such a beautiful read about such important topics. I don’t know if the writing style will be for everyone, but I really loved the quiet and descriptive tone the author used to tell Ruth’s story. I hope you read this, and love it, and pay attention. And then go out into the world and spread acceptance and understanding and love. And always give others the space to be themselves and tell their own story.
Trigger warnings for racism/racist comments (never in a positive light), hate crimes/terrorist acts, mention of death of a parent.
In The Neighborhood of True was published on April 9, 2019.
*All quotations are taken from an eARC and are subject to change prior to publication.