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Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling

Good Neighbors

by Joanne Serling

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Joanne Serling's novel Neighbors is set in a leafy suburb of Boston, where we meet four families, all in their forties. Their kids play together, they share dinners and parties and gossip and friendship.

The story is told through the point of view of Nicole, who is married to Jay, a man who loves to talk about the looming economic doom facing the world. Nela works long hours as a corporate attorney while her husband Drew, who owns a baseball card store, handles most of the socializing. Lorraine is a divorced mom of two, who dresses impeccably, loves tennis and likes to boss everyone around. She always knows the scoop.

Paige is unpredictable. She likes to run all the gatherings, has a spectacular home, and at a Leftovers Day celebration after Thanksgiving, announces that she and her husband Gene are adopting a four year-old Russian girl. Everyone is surprised, but happy for them.

When Paige and Gene bring Winnie home after a month in Russia, Nicole, Nela and Lorraine stop by their house bearing gifts. Winnie is a lovely, shy little girl, but when they arrive home, Paige seems very uptight. She has a lot of rules for interactions with little Winnie- don't say "real parents", say "biological parents". Don't say that Winnie was "given away". Don't talk about her lazy eye.

Nicole is delighted to meet Winnie, but soon it becomes apparent that there are problems. Paige tells odd tales of their time in Russia. She is short-tempered with Winnie, screaming at her for small things, correcting her behavior rudely in front of everyone.

Gene takes time off from work to spend time with Winnie, whom he clearly adores. But things go downhill quickly. Paige interacts less and less with Winnie, spending more time at yoga or shopping. She doesn't bring Winnie to the neighborhood gatherings, then fires her longtime nanny.

Soon Paige stops interacting with her friends. She locks herself and Winnie up in the house and refuses to speak to anyone. Nicole, Lorraine and Nela become worried for Winnie and Paige.

Since the story is told from Nicole's point of view, we also get a glimpse of Nicole's dysfunctional family. Her sister Penny is an alcoholic, and she calls Nicole crying about her life and asking for money. Nicole's mother calls and complains about Penny, and berates Nicole for not being a better daughter.

I found Nicole's family story very compelling, and wished there had been more about it. Nicole feels guilty for not being there for her mother and sister, but what she is doing is not helping their situation either.

Fans of Lianne Moriarty's Big Little Lies will enjoy Good Neighbors. Reading it made me feel like I was in the neighborhood, peeking out of my curtains watching this group of friends try to figure out what is happening to their friend. ( )
  bookchickdi | May 7, 2018 |
In the idyllic suburb of Fair Lawn of group of neighbors has formed a loose friendship based on their proximity in their cul-de-sac and their children's age. However, each neighbor has carefully hidden secrets or simply pieces of their past that they have kept to themselves if it does not fit into the cookie cutter lifestyle that they have envisioned. When one set of neighbors, Paige and Gene unexpectedly announce that they will be adopting a four-year-old girl from Russia, they upset the fragile structure that the neighbors have become used to. When the adopted Winnie comes into her life, neighbor Nicole can't help but become attached. Nicole quickly puts aside all of Paige's strange behaviors in order to become close to Winnie. As time passes Paige's behavior and Winnie's behavior don't seem to line up, other neighbors notice and the friendships become strained. Nicole doesn't want to see what she does not want to believe. Bonds break,hard questions have to be asked of the neighbors and decisions made about the neighbors around them.

This was a very insightful and ominous look into the everyday life of people around us. In reading, nothing out of the ordinary really happens. Narrated from Nicole's point of view, there is a feeling of anxiety and strain cast over all the interactions. We are never quite sure if everything is all right or if Nicole just wants it to be that way. She tries to keep the group of neighbors together as a group of friends despite what they really think of each other. Through Nicole's eyes Paige is someone who she would like to see as cooky but harmless, however, even when Nicole describes Paige, it seems like she is trying to hide something from herself. When Winnie enters the picture, perceptions begin to tilt. Something just seems off; but because of the fragile nature of the friendships created, no one really seems to dig into what it is and get the full story. I thought this was very interesting and opened up a lot of questions about what I would do in this situation, do you decide to be nosy and possibly embarrass yourself, or do you ask the tough questions and figure out the truth no matter what? Throughout the story there is also a plot line of how Nicole's life is not as perfect as she presents, I really wish this was developed more or each neighbor's secrets were revealed. With and exciting and unexpected ending, Good Neighbors is an exciting and uneasy look into the lives of others.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | May 7, 2018 |
This is a novel about four families of neighbors in an upscale suburb. They all become friends due to their proximity to each other and probably wouldn't be friends for any other reason because they are all so different. This is a mainly a story of the women in this exclusive clique - the husbands are definitely part of the background and don't play much of a role in the neighborhood dramas and dynamics.

Nicole, Paige, Lorraine and Nela are the women in the neighborhood who bond together - they all have kids about the same age and that is their main link. Nicole is the narrator and the first to notice a problem when Paige and her husband adopt a 4 year old from Russia. Since Paige lives in the nicest and most expensive house in the neighborhood, it seems that all of the other women are reluctant to point out the possible problems with the adopted child and the ways Paige and her husband have changed. As the three friends begin to question the treatment of child, the friendships begin to unravel. The book is full of twists and turns about whether the women stay friends or speak up about the possible mistreatment.

In her Author’s Note, Joanne Serling states that she chose to write, “about the themes of community, parenting, and adoption as a way of discovering my own beliefs about family, the ones we create and the ones we inherit”. She did just that and more.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own. ( )
  susan0316 | May 4, 2018 |
I want to first thank TLC Book Tours and the author and the publisher for providing me with a copy to review.

I read this very quickly and I found it very interesting. A real psychological 'what would you do if it happened to you?' kind of story. I have no idea what I'd do if I thought a neighbor was abusing her child. Would I do what Nicole did? Maybe. Probably. I don't know! That's the intrigue of this whole book for me. It was a study of the minutiae that overtake our lives. Friendships that are real on the surface and meaningless underneath. Marriages that we think are working but are really have run their course. Children who disappoint you because they're not the perfect family image you presumed they would be. Your Christmas card is flawless but the reality isn't. You bribed your kids to sit still for two seconds before they became their usual terrors.

What I would have really enjoyed was a deeper delve into each character and each family. This would have been an amazing character study. Why does Nicole hurt herself? How did she meet Jay? Why does she get so angry with her sons? Why is Lorraine such a busybody? Why is Nela so stuck up? What the hell is wrong with Paige and why? I could've read 200 pages more, truly. I think this could have been so much more and it probably would have been just as good as the one hundred some pages that skimmed over the issues!

I enjoyed this. I wanted more, which is why I'm giving it 3.5 stars. I felt a little disappointed because I wanted a deeper dive into these people and their lives. ( )
  tuf25995 | Mar 22, 2018 |
From a prologue that talks about how idyllic the neighborhood is to the first chapter when the narrator proceeds to snidely comment on everything that’s wrong with her neighbors (and best friends supposedly)—snobby, aging, remote, this novel is dreadful. Here is how she describes one such ‘friend’:

…so that the weak sun hit her pale and aging face, the tiny cracks and places where her cheeks fell in.

I'll go all in on this one and include a pet peeve. Author Joanne Serling has a love of exclamation points that is nails on chalkboard. Not just in her characters dialogue, but throughout the narrative, with one in almost every paragraph and usually, several.

Cameron interjecting in a loud stage whisper to point out what his friend already knew. That this was his club! That he already knew where all the treasures were hidden!

It made me cringe and DNF this at 20%. ( )
1 vote cathgilmore | Mar 3, 2018 |
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"A searing portrait of suburbia, friendship, and family strained by a devotion to false appearances. In an idyllic suburb, four young families quickly form a neighborhood clique, their friendships based on little more than the ages of their children and a shared sense of camaraderie. When one of the couples, Paige and Gene Edwards, adopt a four-year-old girl from Russia, the group's loyalty and morality is soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies? As the seams of the group friendship slowly unravel, neighbor Nicole Westerhof finds herself drawn further into the life of the adopted girl, forcing Nicole to re-examine the deceptive nature of her own family ties, and her complicity in the events unfolding around her"--… (more)

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