59 pages 1 hour read

Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


A Good Neighborhood, published in 2020, is a multi-genre novel written by Therese Ann Fowler. Fowler is best known for her 2013 novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, a famous historical fiction book that has been adapted for television. A Good Neighborhood strays from Fowler’s usual genre of biographical historical fiction, and she wrote the novel as a response to “the direction our country is moving” (319). The text serves as a call to action, and it is a piece of activism that speaks out against implicit and explicit racism, sexism, sexual assault, the sexualization of children, gentrification, environmental destruction, and several other ethical dilemmas.

This guide uses the Kindle version of A Good Neighborhood, published in 2020 by St. Martin’s Press.

Content Warning: The source material features depictions of sexual assault, sexual assault of children, the death of children, violence, and suicide. Additionally, the source material uses racist and sexist terms, and racist and/or sexist terms might appear in this guide in direct quotes of the source material.

Plot Summary

The Whitman family, consisting of Brad and Julia Whitman and their daughters, Juniper and Lily, moves into a recently constructed house in Oak Knoll, North Carolina. Brad previously purchased the property, had the existing house and all the lot’s trees torn down, and built a large new house with a pool and landscaped backyard. The disruption from the construction has damaged the roots of an old, 80-foot oak tree in a neighboring yard, which belongs to Valerie Alston-Holt and her 18-year-old son, Xavier. Xavier is first to meet the Whitman family, and he is instantly attracted to Juniper, who is 17. Valerie is conflicted because she does not like that she has prejudged Brad, but she cannot respect him because of his careless, entitled attitude. When the oak tree in Valerie’s yard continues to deteriorate, she starts the process of filing a lawsuit against Brad and his builder, both of whom she believes skirted regulations during the new house’s construction.

Juniper, Brad’s stepdaughter, took a purity pledge when she was 14 years old after the Whitmans joined the New Hope church. She has been taught to follow traditional gender roles, and her parents intend for her to marry and live as a housewife and mother.

Juniper, however, has lofty education and career goals and wants to pursue a field in the natural sciences. She applies and is hired at the local grocery store where Xavier works, and she asks Brad and Julia to loan her money to buy a car so she can drive to and from work. Brad is upset at first because he wants Juniper to work for his company, Whitman HVAC. They strike a deal, and Juniper agrees to work three days a week at Whitman HVAC; in return, he buys her a Land Rover so she can drive to work and to the park where she runs. Juniper and Xavier begin a secret relationship, and Juniper intends to talk to her mother about it until Brad is served with the lawsuit. The teenagers continue seeing each other, although Valerie warns Xavier to stay away from Juniper because of the lawsuit.

While Juniper secretly dates Xavier, Brad, who has had a sexual attraction to his stepdaughter for years, convinces himself that she has feelings for him. He thinks that Juniper’s shyness and discomfort around him are proof of her attraction, as well as proof that she is conforming to traditional gender roles.

Xavier and Juniper make plans to have sex. When the day arrives, they meet in the state park and spend time talking, hiking, eating, and drinking wine before having sex in a small cabin. Meanwhile, Brad finds Juniper’s missing phone at work, and he decides to track her car to find her. He uses the excuse that he is delivering the phone, but his plan is to find Juniper so he can have sex with her. He arrives at the state park and enters the cabin, where he finds Xavier and Juniper having sex. He threatens Xavier and throws him out, and Xavier drives away, stopping briefly to get dressed and to contemplate calling the police. He is multiracial and identifies as Black, and he feels that the police will not take his side, so he doesn’t bother.

Brad, upset that Xavier has taken what he perceived as belonging to him, takes pictures inside the cabin. Then, he calls the police and tells them Xavier raped Juniper. The police believe Brad because he is a respected and successful white man and because Juniper is underage and had taken a purity vow. Xavier is arrested and subjected to harsh treatment in jail before being released on bond.

Concerned about Xavier’s chances with a jury, his lawyer recommends that he plead guilty to a lower-level rape charge, but Xavier does not want to follow the advice because he is innocent. While out on bond, Xavier is attacked by a group of white men who had been hearing information about him on conservative media outlets. They hit Xavier in the hand with a pole while driving past, and Xavier’s hand is damaged to the point where he will not be able to follow his dreams of studying and performing classical guitar.

Brad’s lawyer calls Valerie’s lawyer with an offer that he will drop the charges against Xavier if Valerie drops the lawsuit over her oak tree. Brad, however, does not have the power to drop the charges. He tries to get his friend Tony, the district attorney, to drop the charges against Xavier, but Tony refuses. Juniper, meanwhile, has been taken to her paternal grandparents’ house, where she is being kept in the dark about the charges against Xavier. While her grandfather is getting dental work, she runs to the library in town, where she looks up Xavier on the internet and discovers he was charged with kidnapping and raping her. She calls Tony and explains that Xavier did not rape her, but Tony has his own agenda. Like others in Juniper’s life, Tony gaslights her and says that Xavier raped her and that she just doesn’t know any better. Juniper leaves on her own to get back to Oak Knoll and talk to Xavier.

Xavier buys a gun, and he waits outside of Brad’s office. He chooses not to kill Brad because he does not want to become a negative stereotype. Instead, he drives to the cabin where he had sex with Juniper. On the drive, he notices something sticking out from under his car’s hood, and he finds a note from Juniper that says she knows he is innocent and that she loves him. He gets to the cabin and records a message for his mother and leaves a haiku for Juniper. Then, he goes to the river, where he dies by suicide.

After Xavier’s death, Juniper tells her mother about Brad kissing her, and Julia leaves Brad. Juniper changes her college plans, and she decides to study sociology so she can make a difference by becoming a district attorney. Valerie leaves her home in Oak Knoll and moves to a farm with her boyfriend, Chris, where she plants 18 oak trees in honor of Xavier’s life. She wins the lawsuit against Brad, who was forced to sell his company and who went bankrupt after his divorce.

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