A Jewish girl finds her own voice in a Christian Southern community in the late 1950s. A meaningful look at what it means to accept your own identity, and an even more meaningful reflection on racism, bigotry, and the lessons from the past that are still relevant today.
In the Neighborhood of True is a novel that I think sits at the table with some of the many YA novels on racial discrimination in the 1950s South. The messaging is slightly different—our protagonist is a Jewish teenager, and the core themes are a 50/50 split on religious identity vs racial identity—but the overall story echoes others that tell a similar tale: when we Other another community, we breed hate and ignorance.
Obviously, this message is very important to our modern times. The author had no way of knowing this when this novel was written, but its coincidental timeliness was something I was hyper aware of during my read. But this novel stands on its own legs when it comes to quality and core resonance.
Ruth Robb has recently moved into her grandparents home in Atlanta in 1958. Her mother, a former Southern girl, had eloped with Ruth's Jewish father when she was young, so all Ruth remembers is her father's liberalism, her mother's outspokenness, and their welcoming Jewish community in New York.
Then Ruth's father dies, and her mother takes their family to live with her parents in their antebellum home in Atlanta. It's the land of sweet tea, "bless her heart," and the War of Northern Aggression. It's also the home of Ruth's grandmother, who believes Ruth could be her proper debutante granddaughter as long as the don't mention "the Jewish" stuff.
Ruth quickly falls in love with the glamour, the beautiful girls, and the lifestyle of the Southern way of life. So what if she has to hide her temple lessons and synagogue visits? She thinks it's worth it.
But as Ruth ends up discovering, the cost of hiding your true self is deeper than she initially thought...
As I said at the beginning, I loved this story's poignancy and messaging. This narrative, framed through the eyes of a teenager, was beautiful and relevant and heartbreaking at times. It was my first story regarding a Jewish person in the 1950s, and definitely my first story of that experience in the South. The themes of true self vs. the collective, religion vs religion, and truth vs the easy path were themes relevant to that time period and now. A powerful novel for teens and adults alike.
I also loved Ruth herself. Her desire to fit in, her desire to be loved and admired by popular boys... all of us girls can relate to aspects of that. I felt for her when she ignored her inner voice because when you're young, sometimes you don't follow that voice—and then you learn the hard way that the voice is there for a reason.
Great lessons, great plot, engaging characters, and a poignant theme of heart and truth.
Thank you to Algonquin for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.