**THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I recently finished reading A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Ann Fowler and my goodness have I got some opinions on this book!
I’ll start by saying that it took me a long time to complete the book. Whilst the copy I own is 307 pages long – about a medium length book – I struggled to pick it up for the first 100 pages. It simply didn’t grab me, I got frustrated with the writing style, and everything was progressing really slowly. At about page 96, basically at Part 2 of 3 (which is how the book is divided – including chapters) I finally got into the book and things were progressing. Because it took such a long time to enjoy the book, it subsequently took a long time for me to complete it – roughly a month of picking it up and reading less than 10 pages at a time before I hit the 100 page mark and devoured the remainder over 2 days.
Before I get into the story side of things and spoilers, the writing style did tend to frustrate me. The use of language was fantastic, it flowed brilliantly when telling the story. However there were regular points in almost every chapter where we were pulled out of the story by the author, who then felt the need to provide context in a factual way with personal opinions and viewpoints thrusted in there as well. Instead of bring the reader back to a period in time and writing out what happened so that the reader can live through it, we were withdrawn from the story, reminded that we were observers reading a book, and given facts and opinions. This felt quite jarring and frustrating as I would find myself getting into the characters and immersing in the story only to be thrown out and almost told how I should feel about something with clinical context instead of being able to form my own opinions and feelings.
But onto the plot itself – which honestly, wow. So here come the spoilers*
We’re following the story of a 17 year old white girl, and an 18 year old black boy, who move in next to each other, live very different familial lives and fall in love with each other. In true teenage fashion it is a lot more retroactive and forethought about each other than it is interactions. We do follow the families quite often as well as a main story line is the building of the Whitman’s (the white family’s) home which destroys an old oak tree in the Alston-Holt’s yard. This sparks conflict and thus the unfolding relationship between the two teenagers becomes eventful.
In the lead up to the plot twist we see a lot of questionable behaviour which does tend to lead us to believe the story is taking us down a certain path. When the twist happens, things suddenly go a complete different direction and there’s simply no resting until we find out if Xavier gets justice and those that did him wrong are punished. Unfortunately, and bloody frustratingly, there is no satisfying ending.
Accusing someone of assault and pulling strings and using reputation to punish them for your own personal gain is one thing, but then to have a character who we want justice, for commit suicide and thus not ever be able to get justice or redemption is infuriating. There is nothing about this ending that provides any sense of satisfaction or closure. Particularly when we consider that the character that committed suicide, left behind a remaining family member who had already lost so much, and the one that we wish would have been punished seemed to get away with his crimes (although he does lose some respect and sense of family but that just isn’t good enough).
I know, not every book can have a happy ending tied up in a bow, however this ending just had me fuming.
And for that, a massive bravo – credit where credits due, Therese Ann Fowler did an amazing job at getting an emotional response from myself through the book. Even after finishing the book over 24 hours later I still have that same angry, frustrated feeling toward the ending, and strong feelings toward particular characters.
In general I give this book 3/5 stars – the plot twist was fantastic and issues touched upon in the book were really well done. However the constant interjecting with personal opinions and giving the reader facts instead of telling the story, really withdrew from the experience. I know for some they may have gotten into the story well before I did, however as it did take nearly 100 pages to do so, that also was a negative point for myself. But again, really good writing toward the end with being able to elicit a strong emotion response (even if I don’t want to feel that way).