This story is set in Oak Knoll, a fictional gentrifying neighborhood in North Carolina. The Whitmans, a white family of some renown (Brad Whitman heavily advertises his HVAC company), bought a “tear-down” and had a large house and pool built on the site. Neither Brad nor the builders gave a thought to the destruction of all the trees on the property, nor how the construction might damage old trees with extensive roots in adjacent lots. Brad, in fact, doesn’t let much of anything get in his way when he wants something.
The Whitman’s next-door neighbor, Valerie Alston-Holt, an African-American woman with a dual Ph.D. in forestry and ecology, cared very much about the trees. The eighty-foot oak in her yard – the very reason she bought the house so many years ago – was indeed damaged by the construction and was beginning to show signs of distress.
This wasn’t the only source of tension between the two neighbors. The Whitman’s 17-year-old daughter Juniper (who had taken a “Purity Vow”) and Valerie’s 18-year-old mixed-race son Xavier were attracted to one another.
As the story progresses, the strains intensify as racism, class privilege, and sexual attraction all combine to create a horrifying denouement.
Evaluation: This is a compelling and tragic story that would be excellent for book clubs because there is so much to discuss. My only objection was the use of the first-person plural narrator (representing the other neighbors in Oak Knoll). This omniscient “we” knew all about the innermost thoughts and private moments of the members of the two families dominating the story. That seemed very unlikely.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers, 2020