Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled.
Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs, she’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.
Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all. -- Washington Square Press
I love Sarah Pekkanen! Her books always entertain me and I think she does a great job of writing about complex women and the relationships in their lives. She is especially gifted at delving into female friendships. Her latest novel, which came out yesterday, is called THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS; and it is the perfect example of just how well Ms. Pekkanen can tell a story about women and families!
THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS takes place in Newport Cove, one of the 20 safest neighborhoods in the U.S. The women in Newport Cove are a lot like the women in my neighborhood -- they attend Wine and Whine nights (otherwise known among my friends as book club!), they have Halloween parties, they post "issues" and reminders on social media, and they all watch out for each other's kids. However, I'm positive (or at least fairly certain) that we aren't keeping secrets quite like the women in this novel.
The novel follows the lives of four women who all seem to be dealing with some things that they'd rather keep hidden. First there is Kellie, a wife and mother who has just returned to the work force after staying home to bring up her kids. She is finally feeling some freedom from the constant work of a homemaker and mom, but she's also feeling a strong sense of attraction to her co-worker... who also happens to be married. Then there is Susan, a successful business owner and mother, who is recently divorced. She finds herself stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi is also a doting mom and wife to a man running for Congress. As if it's not hard enough to be living in the public eye, Gigi's teenage daughter is also showing some major signs of angst and rebellion.
And last but not least is Tessa. Tessa and her family have just recently moved to Newport Cove, and something is just a little different about them. Tessa is nice enough but not exactly outgoing, and she doesn't seem to initiate much social interaction. Needless to say, Tessa has her own secret... and it might just be the biggest one of all.
I liked THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS quite a bit, and I do think it deserves to be on many "Best of Summer" lists. The characters were well developed, the story was intriguing, and I appreciated how Ms. Pekkanen created the tension in the novel. I think THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS will appeal to many readers because it is an entertaining story, and with all of the secrets, it is an ideal summer read!
I worry that my description of the book doesn't do it justice. The women sound fairly typical, as do their problems; and you might think it's just another women's book about female friendship. But trust me when I say that I couldn't go into too many specifics about these women or I'd be quite the spoiler. The story and the characters (and their relationships) are handled very well, and I think Ms. Pekkanen created memorable characters that many readers will relate to.
One thing that set THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS apart from other women's fiction (and really other books by Ms. Pekkanen) was how she decided to tell this story. The book jumps between each of the characters' stories so readers get to really understand each character. The novel also goes back and forth between the present and the past to explore the Tessa story. I especially appreciated this because it helped to not only give insight into Tessa and her family (whom I did find a bit strange), but it also helped to build suspense. And finally, I liked the inclusion of the Newport Cove Listserv Digest sections. These were brief parts of the story that included the "conversations" among the neighborhood residents concerning many things including dog poop issues. I found these to be extremely funny -- probably because they rang so true, but they also served a greater purpose by featuring larger themes in the novel!
And finally, I thought the building of suspense in the novel really paid off. I was concerned that I would be disappointed when the "truth" of Tessa's secret was finally revealed; however, that wasn't the case at all. In fact, if anything, I was surprised by how devastating the secret really was. Even though I thought I knew what was coming, it still felt like a sucker punch! Suffice it to say that Ms. Pekkanen didn't shy away from a difficult subject.
THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide with ten questions along with some ideas for ways to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include appearances, second chances, forgiveness, redemption, anxiety, infidelity, marriage, parenting, sacrifice, guilt, and secrets. I do believe that these characters are terrific and will also remind readers of women they know... so that might be good for some juicy discussion too!
Overall, THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS is a unique story about women and female friendships. I highly recommend it to fans of Ms. Pekkanen or readers who appreciate books about women!
Thanks to Engelman & Co. for providing a review copy of this novel.