If A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Short review: My first cry ugly of the year.

Longer review: Oh my gosh this was a great read and I knew it would be tragic but did it have to be that tragic and now I just miss all the characters except for one total asshole.

There is so much to unpack in Therese Anne Fowler’s “A Good Neighborhood” — class, race, relationships, world views — which means this is going to make for some crazy good book club conversations. Each of the main characters, from Brad and Julia to Juniper, Valerie and Xavier, are so intricately drawn and the conflict so complicated that it’s difficult to untangle the events that lead to the novel’s conclusion. Hence, if a butterfly flaps its wings …

Let’s start with Valerie Ashton-Holt — she’s earned the right to enter into every situation with skepticism, but did she have to love her 100-year-oak as much as she did? If she hadn’t XXXX her neighbor, would XXXXXX have been placed in that situation? She’s a black single mother raising a biracial son, a Ph.D with an ecological chip on her shoulder and resentful of her neighbor,

Brad Whitman, whose pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-do-what’s-best-for-you mentality got him to where he is today, nouveau riche and loving life, with his wife, stepdaughter and biological daughter in his new house that backs up to Valerie’s abode. Brad seems like a pretty straightforward guy, but it’s not long before you realize he’s paying more attention than he should to XXXXXX and if he had kept that in check maybe he wouldn’t have XXXX XXXXXX and had XXXXXX charged with XXXX. Then there’s:

Juniper, a 17-year-old junior attending private school for the best education money can buy, helicopter parented by her mother Julia, herself previously a teenage mom having also pulled herself up, working hard to escape the trailer park life embraced by her mother. Juniper is at first grateful for Brad having rescued both she and Julia from abject poverty, but like any typical 17-year-old, she finds herself falling in love with,

Xavier Ashton-Holt, a senior and soon-to-be freshman phenom at the San Franscisco Conservatory of Music, the son of a white man and black woman, a classical guitarist who didn’t think a relationship was the right way to go, but can’t say no to Juniper.

I think what’s probably one of the more upsetting aspects of this story is that it’s not unrealistic. People are accused of things all the time — things they never did and no intention of ever doing. But it’s the smaller, less overt actions — where to place a pool in a backyard, for example, or prepubescent pledges to parents — that can have rippling effects for years to come.

There’s so much blame to spread when it comes to the end of this tragic tale, but not much that could be done to avoid it once the wheels began to turn. “A Good Neighborhood” was so incredibly engaging, I could hardly put it down, and I’ll be thinking about it long after. And I miss them. I miss him. Dangit. So unfair, and yet you know it’s going to happen. A great read.

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