Sunday, April 07, 2019

In the Neighborhood of True

Carlton, Susan Kaplan. In the Neighborhood of True
April 9th 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

In 1958, Ruth and her family relocate from New York City to a suburb of Atlanta after the death of her father. Her family runs the local newspaper, so her mother goes to work as a society writer while Ruth and her younger sister stay in their grandparents' cottage. Fontaine, her grandmother, is very eager for Ruth to be part of the debutante scene, since both she and Ruth's mother were Magnolia Queens back in the day. Ruth isn't wild about wearing tea dresses and listening to the girls speculate about her background, but she wants a social life, and some of the girls aren't bad. The problem? Ruth's father was Jewish, her mother converted, and Atlanta society at the time did NOT accept Jewish members! Fontaine says just to keep it quiet, but as social unrest starts to grow during the long, hot summer, Ruth starts to question her grandmother's views. She starts attending synagogue and meets Max, who is working with social justice programs, but she also meets the more traditional Davis, who is cute, popular, and likes her a lot. When the synagogue is bombed, Ruth starts to question her status even more, especially when she suspects that Davis' brother might have a connection to it.
Strengths: This did an excellent job of channeling teen novels of the 1950s (I have quite the collection, so I know this!), down to the pastel tea dresses and bouffant hair dos. It reminded me a little of Cavanna's Jenny Kimura. The real brilliance of this, however, is the inclusion of more problematic material. I loved that the debs had flasks of Southern Comfort in their handbags, that the back biting is more than just over who doesn't where cashmere sweaters, and that we have a New York view of Southern life at the time. Ruth's desire to pass is completely understandable, but so is her realization that this isn't really going to work. Very interesting book about civil rights in the mid twentieth century, but also a very timely story as well.
Weaknesses: While I understand that a huge plot point hinges on the fact that Ruth spent the night with Davis, this (combined with the drinking) pushes it over into the Young Adult section. I would have thought that Ruth's family would have been HUGELY upset about her fall from virtue, but that isn't mentioned very much. Yes, other things are going on, but the fact that her granddaughter spent the night with a boy would surely have sent Fontaine to bed with the vapors for days.
What I really think: I won't be purchasing it for middle school, but would definitely be glad to have this in a high school collection.
Ms. Yingling

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