It’s 1958, and Ruth Robb has moved from New York City to Atlanta after her father’s death. In her new hometown, Ruth soon finds out that she can’t be both Jewish and popular, not if she wants to fit in with the debutantes. She decides to hide her religion, and instead begins falling for the charming Davis and his all-white, all-Christian friends.
But, as Ruth attends her local synagogue at her mother’s urging, she is son pulled into the fight for social justice, and will be forced to choose between the life she wanted and standing up for what she believes in.
Content Warnings: antisemitic hate crimes (the book obviously disapproves of this), racism (small amounts, not condoned)
In the Neighborhood of True surprised me in a lot of ways.
There’s not a lot of historical fiction with Jewish protagonists that’s not about the Holocaust, but Susan Kaplan Carlton writes a novel set in 1958 about a Jewish girl who moves from New York City to Atlanta and hides her religion in order to fit in.
It’s a very quiet and understated novel, one I think a lot of people will end up passing by, purely on account of the lack of popularity for historical fiction during times without huge, well-known events.
But In the Neighborhood of True is important for a lot of reasons.
It looks at how different things were only 60 years ago.
It’s 2019, yet less than a century ago, children were saying prayers in schools and called the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression” and hung the Confederate flag everywhere (umm…still do, ack).
I think this is such an untouched time in history in YA lit, and I really appreciated Carlton’s addition to the YA historical fiction genre. I don’t think a lot of people realized how different things were back then (young people especially!) and seeing how antisemitism existed just a short time ago and still today was really powerful.
It might not have been a super flashy time in history, but things still happened, and In the Neighborhood of True is based on true events (that I won’t spoil, but Carlton talks about in her author’s note).
It sends an important message about staying true to yourself.
I think we can never get too much of “staying true to yourself” sort of stories in YA, and Ruth learns so much about this and how she wants to present herself in a hate-filled world. I’m sure we all know how the story ends for Ruth in terms of accepting herself, but it’s the journey that’s important and Ruth’s own journey was still important.
It might not be full of huge events, but instead quiet resistance and gentle learning through the influence of her friends and family. I think it’s ultimately a lot more of a realistic “stay true to yourself” story than some of the others out there, and feels like a lot of teens could use and appreciate In the Neighborhood of True.
Plus, it talks a lot about a lot of very teen-like issues—dating for the first time, fitting in and wanting to be part of a friend group, and so much more that comes with moving to a new town (although, on a next level because this is The South).
It talks about a lot of still-relevant social topics today.
Activism is really tricky because there’s so many ways to approach it, and a lot of people don’t agree with it.
In the Neighborhood of True presents a view of both activism of the time period against antisemitism, but also activism against racism. And although their approach may not always be right and may be flawed, as Ruth learns and questions, it shows the complexity of activism in a time where so much wasn’t going right.
Overall, I would recommend.
I enjoyed this, and although I definitely think not everyone will love this, the right people will fall head-over-heels in love with Ruth and her story.
In the Neighborhood of True is quiet and understated, but strong as steel at its core.
If you like quieter YA in unusual time periods talking about activism, I would definitely recommend checking out Carlton’s novel.
Thank you so much to Algonquin for sending me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!