Kicking off the week with a book review of In the Neighborhood of True and for those of you in the US there is a giveaway you’ll want to take a look at.
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.
It’s funny from looking at this book I didn’t realise that the topics it would cover would still be so relevant today. The book is set in the 50s, I hadn’t actually realised that until I picked it up because I can be a bit hit or miss with historical books, but the content definitely reflects a lot of the issues that we are currently having in the world, maybe not to the same extremes but it does make you stop and think about how you treat people and how your actions affect other people.
I loved the style of writing in this book, the author has this way of putting phrases together that I thought were really clever and helped to reflect the setting, it was descriptive and atmospheric.
I have to admit that I’m not religious and therefore not really that clued up about religious practices and found the concept of Ruth hiding being a Jew whilst trying to fit in with the predominantly Christian kids at the school really interesting. How she almost juggles her beliefs as she tries to figure out what her identity is was fascinating and something that I think a lot of people can relate to whether they are religious or not.
The book also touches on the hatred in Atlanta during that time, I learned a bit about segregation and the Klu Klux Klan at school but it never really quite covers the atrocities that happened at that time. I thought that the issues of hatred against religion and race were handled well and it was good to see that certain characters in the book were getting pulled up about their actions, however, I do feel like there were some points that this could have caused some tension earlier in the book which would have tied in well with the ending.
I liked Ruth, the main character, and she was very relatable in many ways but at the start of the book I actually found my favourite character was Nattie, I feel like compared to Ruth she had a little bit something more to her. Ruth admits to being shallow, it’s part of her personality and I felt like even though she is upfront about it that it kind of grated on me a little and I started to wonder if maybe she didn’t quite have the depth that I thought a character in this situation would have, she was a bit too surface. However, as we got to the end of the book I was glad to see that Ruth started to turn it around a little, once she admitted to herself who she was and started to care less about what people thought.
I do think that whilst the ending was the best way to wrap up the story, that it felt like there were a lot of emotional encounters that kind of got overlooked, especially between Davis and Ruth. I feel like there could have been a bit more build-up to the ending that would have really cemented how different Ruth’s experience as a Jewish girl would have been in that situation
I really didn’t know what to expect from this book but I thoroughly enjoyed it, this is the kind of historical fiction that I can get behind because it explores important historical issues in a contemporary way and includes some important messages that remain relevant. With such an engaging writing style and the ability to handle sensitive subjects so well I’m interested to see what the author comes up with next.
If you live in the US then you’ll be please with this giveaway, click on the link below to be in with a chance of winning…
Susan Kaplan Carlton, a longtime magazine writer, currently teaches writing at Boston University. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the fine points of etiquette from a little pink book and learned the power of social justice from their synagogue. Carlton’s writing has appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Parents, and elsewhere. She is the author of the young adult novels 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, and Lobsterland.