Thursday, April 4, 2019

Blog Tour: In the Neighborhood of True - Susan Kaplan Carlton

In the Neighborhood of True
Susan Kaplan Carlton
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

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 felt like a fish out of water, when her family relocated from New York to Atlanta following her father's death. She was immediately caught up in all the fanfare surrounding the pre-debutant world, but she quickly realized, that in order to keep her place in that world, she would need to hide a part of herself.

This book left me with a heavy heart. The story is set in the past, in 1958, yet many people still experience similar things today. I did enjoy reading about this through a historical lens, though, because it's easy to forget that side of the 1950s. There were all those clean cut looking kids attending their sock hops and listening to doo-wop as we see in many films, but there was also segregation, antisemitism, and homophobia.

The heart of this story for me was Ruth's inner conflict. She wanted to be part of the group and enjoy all the galas, the Club, and a romance with a handsome boy, but there was a cost. She could not reveal that she was Jewish. Ruth was still grieving her father, and hiding the fact that she was Jewish was a sort of betrayal of her heart, as her religion was so intertwined with the memories of her father. Carlton did a beautiful job navigating all the emotions Ruth was experiencing, and I really enjoyed seeing her work through it all. I was actually really surprised by a few decisions Ruth made, and some made me quite proud of her, because I knew they were not easy choices.

Historically speaking, Carlton competently brought me back to that time. From the hair to the music to the lingo, I felt very immersed in the era. She peppered the story with many important events from the early civil rights movement, as well as some lesser known acts of antisemitism, such as the murder of Leo Frank. I was engaged and entertained.

Overall: A compelling historical look at life in the American south vividly depicted with great details and interesting characters, which highlighted the difficulties and rewards of being true to yourself and taking a stand for justice.

* ARC received in exchange for an honest review.


The Whole Truth


     The navy dress was just where I'd left it, hanging hollow as a compliment behind the gown I'd worn to the Magnolia Ball the night everything went to hell in a hand basket.
      I thought of Davis and his single dimple and how his hand had hovered at the small of my back, making me feel its phantom weight even when he wasn't touching me. I thought of a different day and a different dress, this one with sunburst pleats-how he'd unzipped it and fanned it out on the grass that night at the club, how the air was sweet as taffy, and how when we rejoined his family I'd wondered if every pleat was back in place.
      "Ruth!" Mother's voice burst into the closet. "Not the morning to dillydally."
      "Coming," I said, but I did the opposite of not-dallying. I put the navy dress on over my slip and sat, right there on the closet floor, not giving a fig about wrinkles. It was as if my nerves had pitched the world ten degrees to the left and I had to plunk down to find my balance.
      It was cool at the back of the closet-in what I'd come to think of as my New York section, the land of navies and blacks and grays-where the floor was concrete, smooth and solid beneath me.
      When we'd first arrived here at the end of an airless sum­mer, Mother, who'd changed from Mom to Mother when we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, told her parents, whom we'd always called Fontaine and Mr. Hank, that Nattie and I needed wall-to-wall carpet to cushion our landing. Maybe we needed cushioning after the shock of our father's death, or maybe we needed cushioning after moving from our apart­ ment in New York to our grandparents' guesthouse behind the dogwoods. Either way, the next afternoon, two men turned up with a roll of white carpet and stapled it over every square inch of the place, save for the closets.
      Just like that, we were blanketed in an ironic, improbable snowstorm.

      "Now, Ruthie," Mother said, on the other side of the door.
      I stood up and pulled in, feeling the dread in my chest prickle from the inside out.
      The dress reminded me of Leslie Caron in An American in Paris, except I was an American in Atlanta, and in the six months I'd been here, my taste and I had gone from simple to posh to simple again. If the girls in the pastel posse were in the courtroom today, I bet they'd be in shades of sherbet, rays of sunshine against the February sky.
      Today, I didn't want to be sunny.
      Today, I wanted to be Plain Ruth, teller of truth.

      On the drive downtown, Mother said, "You be yourself up there, Ruthie. It doesn't have to get ugly." Her short bangs curled down her forehead like a question mark.
      Here, nothing was supposed to get ugly.
      As we passed the putting greens on Northside, I watched the trees sway, thinking that winter was different- prettier­ in a place where the trees cared enough about their leaves to hold on to them year-round. And also thinking that prettiness had to be planned, that the sprinklers had to work hard to keep the perfect green lawn from turning back to plain red clay.
      I cranked down the window, needing to feel the air.

      We were twelve minutes late. Mother was often late, a leftover New York affectation, but today my dallying about dresses had held us up. For a half second, I paused in front of the large door with FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT etched in gold, then inhaled and turned the knob gently, hoping to avoid a clang. Clang.
      A hundred or more heads swiveled in my direction .
      Mother dropped her smile, but then she touched her pearls and reassembled herself. I followed her lead, hand to my throat, where my own string of pearls-along with my stomach and other major organs-had taken up residence.
      The courtroom was impressive, with a soaring ceiling and sunlight flooding in from impossibly tall windows. It looked not unlike the temple at the center of the trouble.
      The pastel posse was here after all. I tried to catch Gracie's eye, but she was busy tugging her apricot twinset into place. Mother and I walked past Rabbi Selwick and his wife, both turned out in tweed, and I thought of him at our house with his daughter and her gift of peach preserves. Behind them were women in fur and men in pinstripes. The couples­ probably from the Club-looked like they were waiting for a tray of martinis to glide by.
      Mother stepped into the third row, and I slid next to her. Davis was five feet away, at the defendant's table. The collar
      of his white oxford shirt, crisp and starched, poked out above his blazer. I couldn't tell a single thing Davis was thinking, from looking at the back of his very handsome head.
      The attorney nodded to me and twisted his mouth . "You're late." To the judge he said, "We apologize for the delay, Your Honor. We call Ruth Robb to the stand."
      My pumps click-clicked on the marble floor. A woman with coral lipstick motioned for me to sit in the witness chair, like on Perry Mason. Goose bumps inched up my arms. I wished I'd thought to bring a cardigan. She turned to me and said, "Raise your right hand and repeat after me."
      I raised my hand and noticed a sunburst carved into the paneling over the door I'd just walked through, a little moment of brightness.
      "Other right, " she said.
      ''I'm sorry." I raised my other hand. "I'm terrible with left and right. I always-"
      "Miss-" the judge said, looking down at a note card. "Miss Robb. No need to talk now." He had gray hair and half-glasses, and he gave a half smile.
      And I thought : But that's why I'm here. Because I couldn't keep my mouth shut.       The woman picked up a Bible, and I placed my free hand over its worn leather cover. I knew there were two Bibles- one for whites and one for Negroes. I knew because Rabbi Selwick was on a mission to have Negro witnesses use the same Bible as the rest of Atlanta. I thought about asking for the Negro Bible, even though every single person in the court­ room was white, but as the judge himself had said: "No need to talk now."
      "Do you swear on this Bible the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" the woman asked.
      In the distance, I heard a sprinkler turn on. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I glanced at the Bible, the King James version, and it occurred to me I was swearing on the sacred text of another religion, that there wasn't a Tanakh for Jews to pledge their truthfulness upon.
      I wanted Davis to look up. I wanted to see if his tie was straight. I wanted to see if he' d nicked himself shaving. I wanted to see the constellation of freckles across his eyelids. I wanted to see how he looked when he looked at me.
      And then he did-his true-blue eyes locked right on mine . I felt the heat slide up my cheeks. Davis, who taught me about the Uncivil War, and blowing perfecta smoke rings, and real honest-to-God French-kissing. Davis, who said he wanted us to get married the second we turned twenty-one.
      I swallowed. "I do."



Susan Kaplan Carlton, a longtime magazine writer, currently teaches writing at Boston University. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the fine points of etiquette from a little pink book and learned the power of social justice from their synagogue. Carlton’s writing has appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Parents, and elsewhere. She is the author of the young adult novels Love & Haight, which was named a Best Book for Young Adults by YALSA and a Best Book by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street Books, and Lobsterland.

What's your favorite time period to read in historical fiction?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. Beautiful review, Sam I love when I can see the character grow and find themselves. This sounds like a powerful story.

    1. Ruth's journey was sad, but like you said, powerful, and the story is still relevant too, which gave it even more weight for me.

  2. I love this era. I do like that the author decided to explore a different side to the fifties, one that isn’t so mainstream and popular. Sounds like an informative and powerful read.

    1. I was always enamored with that time period, but I am seeing more of the ugly side via YA lately. Pulp by Robin Talley featured the lavender scare, while this books spotlights antisemitism during that time period. I am glad authors are incorporating these ugly parts of history, that aren't featured often.

  3. Here I go again hoping my comment will show up: excellent review and I wanted to get this one but denied. The blurb and the setting were so promising! Sophie @bewareofthereader

    1. Sorry you were rejected. You should see if you can sign up on their blogger list, then the publicists reach out to you about books. I liked the book, and Carlton's connection to the topic really came through in the writing.

  4. I definitely agree that the 1950s can sometimes come across as all wholesome and fun, so I'm glad that this book explores some of those deeper issues.

    1. Humans have been behaving badly for quite a while, and the 50s were far from as pure and charming as we'd like to think. I appreciated the perspective and getting this look into that past.

  5. This really does sound like an emotional and powerful story. It is great that the author was really able to bring the 1950s alive. It is amazing how different things were just that short time ago.

    1. She did a fabulous job taking us back to the 50s, and it was done in a way that was so organic. The details were woven in a natural way, that did not distract, but still enhanced the experience.

  6. People love to say slavery, racism, and discrimination are things of the past, but they still occur today. Segregation isn't something that happened hundreds of years ago, but an atrocity we've only recently started to remedy. People still see "other" when faced with someone that doesn't look like them, and I believe it will be a long time before we see a significant difference in the way people think.

    Just look at our two most recent presidents, and at how different they are. They represent totally different things, and I'm not even talking about one being a Republican and one a Democrat. Our world is still so divided, and it's hard to see a future where it's not.

    I think stories like this are important, and shed a light on a time that we're unfamiliar with, but that was also recent. Like you said, people tend to forget the bad and focus on the good aspects of the 50's. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, and that it left an impact. I'll definitely be adding it to my TBR!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. I always believed it was important to share experiences in order for us to understand each other better. I enjoy reading about people, who have experiences different from mine, and will select OwnVoices stories over a non-OwnVoices story, because I think the perspective is valuable. The past is a tool to help us be better in the future.

  7. I'm reading this one right now and agree with everything you said. Ruth's story is so compelling.

    1. I thought the story was done really well. It never got preachy or too heavy, and the message was quite clear as well. Glad to hear you are enjoying it.

  8. Great review, Sam! I just finished reading this book the other day and thought the same. You are just so right about being immersed into the era. I loved that part and she did such a great job with. Great review! :)

    1. I am not a big historical reader, but I thought Carlton did an incredible job with that time period, as well as pulling us into southern living. The vibe was very clear and consistent, which I think is important for historical fiction.

  9. I think this book sounds great. I like when books are set in the past but also not too far back in the past that it is disconnected from our reality? Because then we can see how times haven't changed too much since then still. I really like that we get to read about a Jewish female main character and that struggle, as well as a grieving process as well. It sounds like one I would read.

    1. A near past can definitely be more relatable. People who lived in the 50s can still be living now (that's when my family immigrated to the US). It's also an interesting time period in the US, because it pre-dates a very tumultuous decade in our history. Like, the quiet before the storm.

  10. I love the review of this. I can't even imagine what it was like back than. I can see why this left you with a heavy heart. I will have to get this one onto my night stand to read.


    1. Having access to the book gets you halfway to reading it. I hope you enjoy it, when you get to it.