Book review: In The Neighborhood of True by Susan Carlton

Would you fit in for love – or speak out for what’s right?

A timely, young adult romance that examines religion, race and fitting in. In The Neighborhood of True is a beautiful and thought-provoking read.

Thank you to Susan Carlton and Algonquin Books for sending me an e-book of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What is In The Neighborhood of True about?

It’s the summer of 1958 and Ruth Robb’s father has recently died. With her mother and younger sister, Ruth relocates from New York to Atlanta.

Debutante balls, sweet tea, coca-cola, dimple faced boys rival for Ruth’s attention. But as she adjusts to life in the South, it becomes clear who she is may not fit right here. She’s a Jew, and to her new found friends in the ‘pastel-posse’ and the boy she’s falling for, that’s a big deal.

Against the backdrop of racial and religious tensions and the Klu Klux clan, Ruth must navigate what it means to be true. Discovering the truth isn’t always easy.

Book cover for In The Neighborhood of True

What I liked about In The Neighborhood of True?

In The Neighborhood of True has a gripping opening.

Carlton balances this tension with excellent momentum throughout the novel. I was held to the pages, wanting to know what would happen next.

The character development was exceptional, with the main character displaying that exquisite angst that it seems all teens have around fitting in. This is a common theme in young adult novels, the desire to fit in and be accepted by peers is vital. Readers will relate to those feelings of self-doubt and anxiety around social mis-steps.

The Neighborhood of True‘s triumph is in how it goes beyond the typical ‘fitting in’ concerns to discuss deep and complex issues.

Ruth’s is a Jew, and a member of a synagogue with a passion for racial equality. It was moving to witness the characters struggle with these issues and how they relate to her identity.

The conversation of how to be an ally to those facing racial oppression is one that is ongoing and important. In recent months it’s been occurring more often.

In The Neighborhood of True is a useful way for younger readers to engage with this conversation. Ruth must struggle with her own role, and her place in speaking up against the actions of others.

Many young adult books skim the surface of right and wrong, without challenging readers to consider the real world implications of their own actions.

In The Neighborhood of True with its historical fiction setting is positioned well to challenge, and engage readers in this dialogue.

It’s easy to sit back, to omit truths about ourselves or those around us. To convince ourselves its someone elses fight, not our problem. This book shrinks the distancing, and forces the main character, and readers to confront their own discomfort.

What I didn’t like about The Neighborhood of True?

This was an excellent read. It engaged with a historical time period and culture that I am largely unfamilar with.

That being said, it should be noted that this book, does not have many significant characters who are black. Race is an issue that occurs as a backdrop to the exploration of the character’s identity and struggles around acceptance.

Some may critique this book along similar lines to how The Help has been critiqued. It’s important to remember when black lives are being spoken about, rather than with. In these situations, representation can become a major issue.

In The Neighborhood of True is primarily about the main character’s journey with her own identity. This has merit, and is explored intentionally and with clear efforts made by the author for sensitivity.

The conclusions the book draws around prejudice and hatred is one which has merit. This book does not try to speak on behalf of black people. That is an important distinction between The Neighborhood of True and The Help.

Where can I get a copy?

In The Neighbourhood of True is available from The Book Depository here.

Final thoughts

This is a captivating read! Definitely one to check out.

Readers should be aware that this book does discuss the Klu Klux Klan and some descriptions of violence that are distressing. For that reason, I wouldn’t suggest this book for young readers, unless reading with the supervision of an adult they can discuss the issues raised in the book.

This would make a fantastic book club pick, as there’s so many interesting elements in the book to discuss! You’ll just have to read it.

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