Monday, April 15, 2019

In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton | Book Review*

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

Ruth and her family move back to Atlanta after the death of her father. As the new girl in school, all she wants is to make friends, but making friends at a school known to dislike her religion can only happen if she doesn't tell anyone she's Jewish. And it works. She makes friends, gets a boyfriend, and gets invited to all sorts of parties. However, just when she starts realizing that she's getting herslef into a hole she doesn't want to be in, an anti-semetic attack occurs and she has to decide what's more important to her: her new friends, who only know the parts of her she lets them, or her family, who has been through everything with her. 

This book gets inside the head of a girl who is constantly being torn between her own choices, something relatable to pretty much everyone. Because who hasn't told a lie to fit in and then second guessed it? At the same time, the book also covers the very serious topic of racism and anti-semestism in the south during the mid-1900s. As a young, white, Jewish girl, Ruth can see the unfairness in seperate, but equal and at the same time not know how to fix it. Her friend, Max, is fighting for integration, but Ruth is too busy with Southern Tea & Etiquette classes to take part. Unfortunately, the reader doesn't get to know too much about what Max does, but his intentions are clear. 

I liked this book because although I've learned about racism in the south numerous times, I've never been taught about the anti-semitism. I know there is anti-semitism in the USA, but it was always taught as something that happened in Nazi Germany. It was interesting to read about how the KKK targeted other groups of people. Books like this is why I love historical fiction novels. They teach you about what happened, but with a fictional storyline to keep the story more interesting (in my opinion at least) than a nonfiction novel. 
An interview with the author:
1. How did you write TRUE? All at once or did you outline the story?
I’m not an outliner, and it took me a long time (a year, if I’m being honest) to find the beating heart of this book. Once I figured out what the story was about - falling so in love with a boy, or a place, that you risk losing yourself . . . and learning to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s hard and heart-breaking - I wrote straight through.

2. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? Which of your characters do you most identify with, and why?
I love my main character Ruth. She’s shallow and she knows it (obsessed with fashion and frippery and the magazine Mademoiselle) but she’s discovering that she also runs deep. A couple of years ago, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a great essay for ELLE defending why smart women can love fashion. And I love that (and her). We are all so much more than one thing.

3. What gave you the idea for TRUE?
The roots of the story are deeply personal. Our family had just moved to Atlanta and joined a synagogue. We were still new to town when our youngest daughter announced she’d learned that the classroom she spent every Sunday morning in had been the site of a bombing 50 years before. That stayed with me - the idea that the walls that held these kids had once been blown apart. In the Neighborhood of True is a response to that bombing in 1958, retribution for the rabbi’s involvement in civil rights. The book is horrifying timely in a way I never could have imagined. You can draw a line from Atlanta in 1958 . . . to Charlottesville in 2017 . . . to Pittsburgh in 2018 . . . to Christchurch two months ago.

So, there’s that important seed of the story. And then, as I was writing Ruth and her various lies of omission about her religion, I remembered my college boyfriend asking me to not tell his grandfather that I was Jewish . . . he just wanted the man to like me, he said. And, unbelievably, I agreed. That’s the question I found myself puzzling over - why was I so quick to hide who I was for this boy I loved?

4. Do you have a favourite scene, quote, or moment from TRUE?
It takes my main character, Ruth, a long time to find her voice in Atlanta, circa 1958. At first she’s so seduced by the dresses and the debutante parties (and a dimpled boy) that she keeps quiet about who she is.

On Ruth’s first official date with Davis, she’s trying to figure out how much of herself to reveal. I like this scene between them after seeing the movie Vertigo.
“I like Hitchcock,” I said.
Me too. Bet you like one of the Janes - Eyre or Austen.”
Please. Give me some credit. I like . . . I love . . . Truman Capote.” Actually, Sara liked Truman Capote. But last year, Mademoiselle had published one of his short stories, so that was something.
I should read him then.”
The thought of Davis doing something because I loved it was sort of exhilarating. “I don’t really love him,” I said, wanting to tell the truth when I could. “I just read one story of his about Christmas, and it was depressing as dirt.”
"Ah, so in the neighborhood of true.” Davis one-dimpled me. “That’s what we say when something’s close enough."

5. If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self not to be so judge-y. My first drafts are a hot mess. I wonder a thousand times an hour if there’s anything of worth on the page. And I’m kind of slow. I have to write all the way to the end to figure out what I’m trying to say. But then the revision starts, and I cut all the dreck, and things start looking up.

6. What is on your current TBR pile?
Sooooo many books, but here are my top five!

  • White Rose by Kip Wilson (a gorgeous novel in verse about Sophie Scholl and a nonviolent resistance group that challenged the Nazis)
  • Internment by Samira Ahmed (every single writer I respect has been raving about this novel set in the near-future with internment camps for Muslim-Americans)
  • Bright Burning Stars by AK Small (ballet and Paris - yes, please)
  • The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (this historical fiction about first loves and fate is technically an adult read but easily crosses to YA - set in both 1950s Tehran and present-day Boston)
  • It’s a Whole Spiel edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman (cannot wait for this anthology with Jewish characters who are diverse in sexuality, race, and level of observance)

7. Do you write to music? If so, what artist were you listening to while writing TRUE?
The opening lines of the song 24 Frames by Jason Isbell made me think of Ruth: “This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing/And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love that she/Gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing.”

In a more vintage mood, I also made a Spotify playlist for TRUE - songs that Ruth (and Gracie and Davis) would have listened to and loved . . . and it really inspired me as I was trying to imagine the twists and turns, political and otherwise, of 1958

  • Great Balls of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Sh-Boom - The Crew Cuts
  • Love me Tender - Elvis Presley
  • At the Hop - Danny and the Juniors
  • Wake Up Little Susie - The Everly Brothers
  • Blue Suede Shoes - Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley
  • In the Still of the Light - Five Satins
  • St. Thomas - Sonny Rollins
  • Rock Around the Clock - Bill Haley and His Comets
  • Tutti Fruitti - Little Richard
  • That’ll Be the Day - The Crickets
  • I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Twos
  • Why Do Fools Fall in Love - Teenagers
  • You Send Me - Sam Cooke 

*This review was requested of me, but the opinions are my own


No comments

Post a Comment

© Juliann Guerra
Blogger Templates by pipdig