In Oak Knoll, a tight-knit North Carolina neighbourhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door – an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition and a secretly troubled teenage daughter.
With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard.
But as they fight, they fail to notice that there is a romance blossoming between their two teenagers. A romance that will challenge the carefully constructed concepts of class and race in this small community. A romance that might cause everything to shatter….
A strong message, very cleverly written, A Good Neighbourhood deals with issues of class, wealth, race, lust and love. I galloped through this book, unable to put it down, yet at the same time paused to savour the wonderful story telling and also to stop and think, with each new thread of the tale being told.
Valerie Alston-Holt has lived in her house in Oak Knoll for many years bringing up her son, Xavier, on her own since the sudden early death of her husband. She has taught Xavier that as a young black American his best approach is to stay out of troubles way, to keep his head down and work hard, which he has done, having received a partial scholarship to study classical guitar at a highly rated college in San Francisco. He is due to leave in a matter of weeks, so his plan is to avoid any new love interests over the summer as he isn’t going to be around soon.
The other love in Valerie’s life is the environment. It is her passion and her work, and this love extends to a much loved, large oak tree, at the bottom of her garden.
Enter the Witman family. Wealthy, thanks to the success of Brad, (husband, father & step-father). Their ideals and lifestyles are instantly at odds with that of Valerie’s and Xavier’s and when the building of their new large, flashy house reveals to have had a detrimental affect on the oak tree, Valerie can not ignore it and takes action that will go on to have horrible and irreversible consequences.
I will stop there as I do not wish to tell you anymore of the story so that you can read it for yourself, but this is much more than a story about feuding neighbours. As we learn of the lives of both families, we begin to see how they have all come to be the people they are and learn of how their town and neighbourhood treat them in times of need.
I found this a wonderfully written story. There were parts that I found difficult to read of, characters that I wanted to hate, but their stories were ones I still wanted to read. I thought the inclusion of the unnamed narrator, presumably someone living in the same neighbourhood, a wonderful idea. It really added to the tension and anticipation of what was to come. Telling us of what was around the corner even before the characters knew. It was raw, emotional and so believable. Yet at the same time a riveting read.
Thank you so much to the publishers for both my proof and hardback copies of this book. A 5 star read and going straight into my reads of the year so far.