A Good Neighborhood takes place in a diverse neighborhood, an established neighborhood with a long history. It is named Oak Knoll, a sign that it is proud of its majestic oaks. It is a good neighborhood. It is pressured, though, by people buying up older homes, demolishing them and building over-sized houses. Valerie Alston-Holt is unhappy that when the house next to hers was torn down every single tree was razed. The house and pool fill the lot and make her worry about the health of her own magnificent oak tree, one that has significant sentimental value to her. She is predisposed to dislike the Whitmans and they seem to conform to her worst expectations when Brad Whitman, the father assumes Valerie’s son Xavier is her yard worker.

But Xavier is attracted to Juniper, Whitman’s stepdaughter and Valerie likes Julia, his wife. Xavier is a talented classical guitarist eager to start college in the fall, having won admission and a scholarship to a prestigious California school. His attraction to Julia is the first serious relationship.

Valerie’s oak tree is damaged and will die and she learns the Whitmans built a larger home than allowed. She files suit. Meanwhile, we learn Brad is anything but a nice guy. It is clear he is racist and eager to exploit racism to his own ends. He sees Valerie through the stereotypes of Black women even though she is a college professor. He exploits racist libels of Black men to attack Xavier to gain leverage against Valerie. Things will not end well.

Is it horrible to say I wish A Good Neighborhood were less realistic? It seems when white and Black individuals or families come into conflict, the Black people lose. I think the premise is credible. I can see Valerie filing that suit. I can see Brad exploiting his connections and racism to gain leverage. I thought, though, that Brad Whitman was made less interesting by his sexual interest in his step-daughter. It was making him too evil without mitigating and interesting complexity. There is nothing complex about him. He is just awful.

My favorite thing about the book was the voice of a person in the neighborhood telling the story. Fowler perfectly captured the way people always find themselves innocent.

A Good Neighborhood  will be released March 10th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness