Thank you so much to Kelly Doyle for sending me a copy of IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE to review, for the blog tour. This does not affect my rating or review of the book.

Wow, I haven’t done one of these in forever. And by these, I mean a book review. It’s been what, four months, since my last review?

Anyways, onto this book. IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE is a powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out. It is a story that fits into current events, particularly in America and the Black Lives Movement, though set in the 1950’s amidst the crusade of the hateful group, KKK. It speaks volumes about identity and fitting in and trying to be two people at once.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: ANTISEMITIC HATE CRIMES, RACISM, MENTIONS OF LYNCHINGS

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.

I’ve not come across many books with Jewish protagonists, so it was refreshing to find this book. When Kelly emailed me about writing a review on it, I jumped at the chance, more so since it completely related to the events currently unfolding. The book is about a Jewish girl, Ruth, who moves to the South from the North in 1958, and conceals her religion to be able to fit in with her white peers.

In a place surrounded by blonde or light brown hair, and being the only girl with black hair, she does stand out.

Despite it being a historical YA novel, it touches on a variety of important issues and the Confederate flags still being hung all over, and the horrific crimes partaken by the KKK and their followers. (I still can’t believe that, to this day, the Ku Klux Klan still exist and have followers. It makes me sick to even think of it, and breaks my heart when reading about the atrocities they committed.) It’s set 60 odd years ago, but it doesn’t seem that a lot has changed since, and it certainly doesn’t feel ‘historical’ either.

Antisemitism and racism are strong themes throughout the book, as well as racist micro-aggression being prominent as we see Ruth try navigate the two halves of her life.

(also, it’s not a love-triangle!)

“Aside from your hair, which you certainly picked up from your father, you don’t look . . . well, you look beautifully exotic, Ruthie. Even with your dark eyes and your suntanned skin, you don’t look too . . . oh, never mind.”

I can’t speak on the treatment of Jewish people, but I do know that the use of the word exotic is shoving them into the category of foreign, and suggesting that not looking too different is better because it could mean they’re white Christians, from a more sunny area or possibly country, gives into the idea that white Christianity is best and different is bad. Gross. The problem with this is that the character who said that seems like a ‘nice’ person, but clearly with racist ideologies and thus, you begin to question her as a person. She would be one of those people who say “I don’t see colour.” Like, excuse you? You don’t see colour? By not seeing colour, you are not recognising, and minimising, the treamtent and marginalisation of different religious groups and ethnic minorities, amongst a group of white people.

Can a person really be nice if they’re racist?

“Thirty-five hundred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (. . .) declared that being white–not Negro, not Jewish–made you as solid as Stone Mountain.”

Stories about staying true to the person you are always have vital lessons woven through their words, and IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE is no exception. Ruth learns this as the story goes on, going on a journey of how to be or show herself in a world and country filled with so much hate, racism and antisemitism. Antisemitism in America is not much known, and prior to this book and then doing research after, I had no idea that Jewish people were treated this badly in America. Of course we know about the Holocaust, and how devastating it was, many books don’t have Jewish main characters that aren’t set during this time period or around WWII. It’s something that should be spoken about in History lessons, so I think this book does a good job in opening up that particular conversation.

‘Big’ events don’t necessarily transpire in the book, rather it is full of gentle reminders and nudges, quiet moments, and words and influence from friends and family that aid Ruth in her journey to become, and continue to be, herself.

“When hatred shows its face you need to make a little ruckus. And you dear Ruthie, you made a very important little ruckus.

It is also a transitional book, dealing with new beginnings, new school, friends and wanting to fit in, and exploring boys and dating for the very first time. This is already stressful enough, and with the addition of the extra layers, it makes it harder for Ruth to blend in and make herself be someone she’s not to be One Of Them.

I adored how relevant IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE is, despite the time period it is set in. It speaks volumes and highlights the importance of speaking up and activism, as well as trying to fit into a group that you have to change yourself for. I do wish it was a little less predictable and more emotional, because there wasn’t enough fear or emotion ringing through the pages or from the characters. A Jewish girl, hiding her religion, amongst Southern Belles, all white and blonde, in the South? There was potential for it to play out deeper in the book! However, I strongly recommend it to be read by everyone, and think it’s a 4 star rating.

“He reminded us that we were all a small part of a larger story of hate, that all along, the clock had been ticking. And now the alarm rang for us.”

Have you read IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE? What are some of your favourite ‘activist’ books, or books about staying true to who you are, or even books that relate to current events happening in the world?

Sumaiya, x

Posted by:Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Poised.

2 thoughts on “In The Neighborhood of True

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