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Monday, April 15, 2019

Atmospheric, Affecting YA Novel Teaches Powerful Lessons About Fitting In and Standing Out

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Atlanta, Georgia, feels as foreign as the moon for Upper East Side native Ruth Robb.  At first, the 16-year-old can't help comparing everything about her new home to New York City, where her family was complete and happy.  Living in her grandparents' guesthouse in the sweltering South sans her beloved father, whose sudden death has left her numb with grief, will never feel right.  Still, Ruth finds that she desperately wants to fit in with the "pastel posse," a group of wealthy debutantes whose lives revolve around weekly etiquette lessons, shopping for the perfect tea dress, and vying for the honor of being crowned Magnolia Queen.  Ruth's mother and older sister eschew such frivolous frippery; is it so wrong that Ruth longs for that life with every beat of her shallow little heart?

It's 1958 and one thing stands in the way of Ruth "passing" as a member of this exclusive club—she's Jewish.  Keeping her secret under wraps becomes more and more difficult as Ruth's eyes are slowly opened to the ugliness that lurks beneath the pastel posse's genteel veneer, a snake in the magnolia bushes that mirrors the tension simmering all over the South.  With increasing demonstrations of discrimination, hate, and violence against Negroes, Jews, and other minorities happening all around her, Ruth finds herself caught between two worlds.  When push comes to shove, which one will she choose?

In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton is an atmospheric, affecting YA novel that teaches some effective lessons about the dangers of conformity, the necessity of compassion, and the power of crusading for what is right.  With plenty of fascinating historical details, the setting comes to vivid life, helping the reader really feel the tension, hypocrisy, and confusion reigning in Ruth's world.  The characters are complex, the plot engaging, and the prose skilled.  I whipped through this engrossing novel in a matter of hours, eager to know what was going to happen next.  Not only is the story absorbing, but it's also relevant and thought-provoking.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  No specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of underage drinking, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of In the Neighborhood of True from the generous folks at Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. This sounds good. I think people forget that being Jewish was "not accepted" in certain societies until the 1970s in this country.

  2. It was interesting reading about the Jewish experience in a historical set outside of WWII. Lots of food for thought in this one, and I thought Carlton did a wonderful job immersing us in the time period.

  3. I love reading about this time period, it is one of my most favorites. Some how this one slipped my radar so thanks for introducing me to it! I definitely think it's one I would enjoy as well.

  4. I've seen this cover all over but hadn't stopped to see what it was about. Great review!


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