Book Reviews

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


Released: April 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 320
Rating: 4/5

A powerful story of love, loyalty, fitting in—and 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.


In the blink of an eye, everything in Ruth’s life completely changed. Her father, her home, her friends- all of it was gone. She not only had to deal with getting used to life without her father, but she had to learn how to live in a place so alien from her own she might as well have moved to a different country. A place where the Civil War is only referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression.”

The south in the late 1950’s was not a welcoming place to people who weren’t white and Christian. When we talk about racism in the south, much of the discussion is justifiably focused on the oppression of African Americans, but they weren’t the only victims. Jewish people were targets as well and for this reason, Ruth’s grandmother is almost frantic to keep Ruth’s Jewishness a secret.

Ruth doesn’t exactly go along with this plan, but she doesn’t go against it either. She essentially followed a plan of lying by omission, but how long can she really keep it up? She tried to ignore the situation, instead focusing on the colorful and fancy Southern high society she had been thrust into. In an effort to not have to worry about lying about being Jewish and to not succumb to the grief she pushes deep down inside her, she focused her energies on things like boys, romance, clothes, and dances. You know, typical high school stuff.

“Ah, so in the neighborhood of true. That’s what we say when something’s close enough.”

It’s easy to say you would never lie or hide something as important as your religion, but sadly I know firsthand it’s easier said than done. Despite being a very outspoken and opinionated person from pretty much the moment I could form words, I went through something similar when I moved to a new school during my sophomore year. In an attempt to fit in and make friends I let things go that I still kick myself about years later.

To preface, even though I’m of indigenous Mexican descent, I look like I just emerged from the hills of Ireland. The first friends I made in high school were white and even though most of the student population wasn’t white, I didn’t think much of it. That was until I made friends with another new student, a black boy, and these white friends saw us sharing lunch one day.

The conversations that followed were pretty ugly and when I finally pointed out to them they had been my friend all these months and I’m Mexican, they reacted with a mix of horror and disbelief. A few days later they came up to me and said, “Even though your dad is Mexican we still like you.” No dude, I’M Mexican.

I wish I could tell you I put them in their place, but I was so desperate to not be friendless I just awkwardly laughed and moved on. I soon made better (and more multicultural) friends and never gave that group another thought. I’m still mad at myself for not doing or saying more, but high school is a really tough place already when you’re the new kid. It’s not an excuse, but it’s why I didn’t do more.

So I can certainly sympathize with Ruth. Her situation was much more difficult than mine and in a more volatile time period and place, but I can still understand the internal battle raging through her.

Eventually, though, it became more than just her own secrets she had to confront. Her new life was not just finer, frippery, and high society politics, it was a life constantly confronted by open racism and hostility. No longer were the KKK and separate water fountains things Ruth read about in the newspapers, but were shocking things she saw every day.

I tried to imagine hauling a pine cross and a jug of kerosene up this path. I tried to imagine hating someone enough to strike a match.

Ruth’s journey was an emotional and important one to be witness to. It was nuanced and subtle at times which I think makes Ruth’s inner turmoil more relateable. Many of these types of self-discovery stories are fit into dystopian or fantasy tales so to see it happening in a more realistic setting makes it even more impactful.

In saying that, though, I did have trouble connecting with Ruth at times because she kept everything so close to her chest. The story was told from her point of view, but she seemed so determined to shove her feelings down that it was hard to see the full picture of her character. This kind of played into the whole overall theme of the book, but it still would have been nice to see past her walls a bit more.

Now the characters I absolutely connected with were her mother and her sister Sara. We didn’t get to see enough of these two dynamic women. I would wholeheartedly read a book about her mother forgoing a life of Southern luxury to marry her northern Jewish husband. Like Ruth’s, it’s a compelling story that I’d definitely want to read.


The setting and time period of In the Neighborhood of True was quite unique. There are plenty of books out there about racism in the south, but like I mentioned earlier they tend to focus on the experiences of people of color. There are also books about anti-Semitism, but those often take place during time periods like the Holocaust. It was refreshing to read a story that combined those two elements in a different way. Now more than ever stories like these need to be told.

Reading this book and the way people in Ruth’s new city behaved, it almost felt like I was reading about events occurring now. Many people still feel the same way they did 60 years ago, proudly displaying their confederate flags and vandalizing synagogues and black businesses. It’s certainly an eye-opener to truly realize how far we still have to go to eradicate the systemic oppression that is so ingrained into our society.

Some memorable quotes:

“You are shallow! But you can be shallow and deep at the same time. Water is water.”

“Maybe the whole truth is overrated. If everyone told the whole truth, then Hitchcock wouldn’t have had a career.”

“What Sara wanted for herself, she then told me, was to actually finish James Joyce’s Finnegans’ Wake, which she called an ‘experiment in incomprehensibility.'”

Dad won’t be here to walk any of us to our weddings.” Maybe Mother teared up, or maybe the sun was in her eyes. “I’ll be there.” She said it right away. “I’ll be there to walk each of you down every single aisle we find.”

If you’d like to gain more from your experience of reading this powerful book, the author has a great discussion guide on her website. It’s perfect for school assignments and book clubs, too!

About the Author

Susan Carlton Credit Sharona Jacobs_HR

Susan Kaplan Carlton teaches writing at Boston University. Her latest novel, In the Neighborhood of True, has been named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and scored 10/10 in YOYA.

Carlton’s writing has appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Parents, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere. She is also the author of the young adult novel 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.

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Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers and the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a blog tour review.

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