In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who’s headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans—an apparently traditional family with new money and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter—raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.
With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.
A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today—what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?—as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
“Therese Anne Fowler’s new novel will have you examining the actions and motivations of everyone you know. Her exquisite storytelling and character development deliver an unforgettable and unpredictable story that touches on many contemporary issues, including race, wealth, control, and status. Be sure to leave yourself some time for this one — once you hit the tipping point, you won’t put it down until you finish.”Kari Erpenbach at University Of Minnesota Bookstores
She spoke with us about her inspiration for her book, her own favorite listens, and the importance of independent bookstores to our communities.
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
It started with my anxiety over the condition of an oak tree in my own backyard. The tree had been damaged by the construction of a new house next door, and as I watched it for signs of distress, I mused on all the underlying reasons for its damage: the causes and effects of gentrification; the disregard for the environment by greedy builders; the kinds of privileged people (usually wealthy white men) who shape the rules and benefit from them.
I was also feeling anxious about how the growing prevalence of overt racism, sexism, evangelical hypocrisy, and the steady rollback of environmental protections in our country are harming so many people (not to mention ecosystems). Out of all of that came this love story—about motherhood and marriage and young love and love for the planet—all contained in a dramatic story about one summer that changes everything for two neighboring families.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
This novel has an unusual narrator (by which I mean who it is that’s telling the story in the book, not who’s reading it for audio): the neighborhood itself. It’s a kind of Greek chorus presenting and interpreting the events that take place.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
I’ve listened to several scenes, and I love Ella Turenne’s calm, warm, intelligent tone of voice. It’s perfect for guiding listeners through this story.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
I am so impressed by and grateful for passionate booksellers! For these folks, bookselling isn’t a job, it’s a calling. A Good Neighborhood has been endorsed by so many booksellers across the country, many of whom have been using their social media to get the word out beginning early last year and continuing through publication. Booksellers have been hand-selling my historical novels all along as well, so much so that Z (my novel about Zelda Fitzgerald) continues to be featured in stores SEVEN YEARS after its publication. That is almost miraculous in this business.