Welcome to my stop on the In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton blog tour, and thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for the invitation to read and review! This beautiful book is now available! I have a review for you, along with a fun Q&A with the author. Also, how cute is Harper Lee in that picture?!
About the In The Neighborhood of True:
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.
Wow, this book. Ruth Robb and her family move from New York City to Atlanta in 1958. Her father has recently passed away, which triggered the move. Ruth’s family is Jewish, and one of the first things she learns in Atlanta is that she must choose between being Jewish and being popular.
Ruth desperately wants to fit in like any teen would, and she chooses to hide her religion from her new group of friends. She has a crush on Davis and winds up with him at the club that is all-white and all-Christian.
Ruth’s mother still makes her attend temple every week, but no one outside her family knows. She forms a relationship with Max at temple, and he is vocal about social justice for Jews.
A hate crime occurs, and Ruth will have to make some tough choices between what she wants and what is right.
Technically this is a young adult historical, but I didn’t notice the “young adult” part while reading. Maybe the language was straight forward, but I took it as seamless, smooth writing. I was immediately struck by this different take on being a Jew in the south during the 1950s. I’m not sure I’ve read a book with this focus before. Based loosely on an historical event that occurred in Atlanta during this time, it made me consider how little has changed some 60 years later when I think of Pittsburgh.
Overall, In the Neighborhood of True is a thoughtful and important look at deciding between who you think you are and who you want to be.
I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
About the Author and Q & A:
Susan Kaplan Carlton currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.
How to connect with Susan:
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
Have you read In the Neighborhood of True, or is it on your TBR? Happy Reading! ~ Jennifer THR