In this story, we meet two families: the Whitmans and the Alston-Holts, next door neighbors who could not be more different.
Brad Whitman is a bit of a local celebrity. He owns a successful HVAC business and runs local TV ads (starring himself) - you know the type. He's married to Julia, a woman who was a single mother prior to their relationship. Her teenage daughter, Juniper, becomes the center of the plot.
Valerie Alston-Holt is a widow, who lost her husband after he suffered a traumatic brain injury. She is left to parent her son, Xavier, on her own. She seeks comfort in gardening and is particularly passionate about the trees she's planted and nurtured on her property. When the Whitmans move in next door and install a pool, the roots of her trees are in jeopardy, sparking a quest for justice (yes, over the trees).
The families become even more entangled when Xavier and Juniper begin to fall for one another. Their parents caution them against pursuing anything, but they are undeterred and begin to meet in secret. I don't want to say anything more because the book takes a sharp turn in the final 40 pages and you should definitely experience it for yourself!
That said, I do want to give you a sense for Fowler's writing. Here's a passage that describes life at the Whitman house:
"The scene at the Whitmans' dining table on the evening Juniper asked for a car was one we could have liked to witness. Because as much as any of us could stand on the sidewalk and gaze tat their picture-perfect house, seeing the warm glow of costly light fixtures inside, noting the way the copper gutters caught the the dying western sun as the crickets began their night song among the boxwood shrubs . . . as much as we envied the ability to live as well as the Whitmans did even while disapproving of the size of the house and the process by which it had come to stand here towering over its near neighbors, we wondered how they treated one another when no one was watching. We were curious to know whether their family life was as enviable as their home."
And another that brings the reader inside the head of arrogant Brad Whitman:
"With Julia, Lottie and the girls away, every night after work, once the sun was down, Brad Whitman sat out back under his covered porch looking past the swimming pool, past the fence, past teh dying oak tree, and smiled with contentment. Over there, Valerie Alston-Holt fretted over her son's fate and regretted tangling with old Brad Whitman, he'd bet on it. Over there, Xavier Alston-Holt was brooding but also learning a lesson what he was and was not entitled to."
If you typically enjoy stories about the dark side of suburbia - Little Children by Tom Perrotta, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng - you'll like this too.
I am at the point in the calendar year where I stock up on books for the beach. Here is what's on my list for the next few weeks:
- Thanks for Waiting by Doree Shafrir
- Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
- While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
*Image courtesy of Book Club Chat.