Thank you Algonquin YR for inviting me onto this Blog Tour and for Gifting me an E-ARC in exchange of an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What I loved most about this book, is that it was so atmospheric. I felt like I was transported back to the 1950’s. I had no issue imagining The “Pastel Posse”, the cotillion, the pageantry of the elite debutantes. The shy/nervous Ruth Robb, her eccentric grandparents, her worrisome mother, and cute little sister.
The 50’s is actually one time period I wish I could teleport to, there were so many historical life events, that I would have loved to witness. On the other hand, topics that this book shes a light on, are a reason why I wouldn’t want to. The rampant racism, the hate crimes, the holier than thou religious folk, it was a scary time frame. And I think this book did a fantastic job encapsulating that.
I.T.N.O.T. had such a nice pace to it, I feel like I flew through the book, even though it was such a heavy topic. I Really liked Carlton’s writing style. Sometimes in YA books, the Author tends to dumb down a teenage character, and uses such an immature dialogue. I felt like these characters, were written as their age, and as a teenager would be in the 1950’s. Pushing boundaries, testing their parents, their friends, and trying to navigate life in a non easy world. Well done.
While this is a coming of age story, it is also a very sad one. I did really enjoy it, and I will make sure to look out for Carlton’s books from now on. Also, I want to add, I am in love with the musical references in this book, some of my very favorite music is from the 1950’s and I love when music and literature joins forces. Check out the playlist in the Q&A Below.
Q&A With Susan Kaplan Carlton
1. How did you write TRUE? All at once or did you outline the story?
I’m not an outliner, and it took me a long time (a year, if I’m being honest) to find the beating heart of this book. Once I figured out what the story was about—falling so in love with a boy, or a place, that you risk losing yourself…and learning to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s hard and heart-breaking—I wrote straight through.
2. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? Which of your characters do you most identify with, and why?
I love my main character Ruth. She’s shallow and she knows it (obsessed with fashion and frippery and the magazine Mademoiselle) but she’s discovering that she also runs deep. A couple of years ago, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a great essay for ELLE defending why smart women can love fashion. And I love that (and her). We are all so much more than one thing.
3. What gave you the idea for TRUE?
The roots of the story are deeply personal. Our family had just moved to Atlanta and joined a synagogue. We were still new to town when our youngest daughter announced she’d learned that the classroom she spent every Sunday morning in had been the site of a bombing 50 years before. That stayed with me—the idea that the walls that held these kids had once been blown apart. In the Neighborhood of True is a response to that bombing in 1958, retribution for the rabbi’s involvement in civil rights. The book is horrifying timely in a way I never could have imagined. You can draw a line from Atlanta in 1958 ….to Charlottesville in 2017….to Pittsburgh in 2018…to Christchurch two months ago.
So, there’s that important seed of the story. And then, as I was writing Ruth and her various lies of omission about her religion, I remembered my college boyfriend asking me to not tell his grandfather that I was Jewish…he just wanted the man to like me, he said. And, unbelievably, I agreed. That’s the question I found myself puzzling over—why was I so quick to hide who I was for this boy I loved?
4. Do you have a favourite scene, quote, or moment from TRUE?
It takes my main character, Ruth, a long time to find her voice in Atlanta, circa 1958. At first she’s so seduced by the dresses and the debutante parties (and a dimpled boy) that she keeps quiet about who she is.
On Ruth’s first official date with Davis, she’s trying to figure out how much of herself to reveal. I like this scene between them after seeing the movie Vertigo.
“I like Hitchcock,” I said.
“Me too. Bet you like one of the Janes—Eyre or Austen.”
“Please. Give me some credit. I like . . . I love . . . Truman Capote.” Actually, Sara liked Truman Capote. But last year, Mademoiselle had published one of his short stories, so that was something.
“I should read him then.”
The thought of Davis doing something because I loved it was sort of exhilarating. “I don’t really love him,” I said, wanting to tell the truth when I could. “I just read one story of his about Christmas, and it was depressing as dirt.”
“Ah, so in the neighborhood of true.” Davis one-dimpled me. “That’s what we say when something’s close enough.”
5. If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self not to be so judge-y. My first drafts are a hot mess. I wonder a thousand times an hour if there’s anything of worth on the page. And I’m kind of slow. I have to write all the way to the end to figure out what I’m trying to say. But then the revision starts, and I cut all the dreck, and things start looking up.
6. What is on your current TBR pile?
Sooooo many books, but here are my top five!
· White Rose by Kip Wilson (a gorgeous novel in verse about Sophie Scholl and a nonviolent resistance group that challenged the Nazis)
· Internment by Samira Ahmed (every single writer I respect has been raving about this novel set in the near-future with internment camps for Muslim-Americans)
· Bright Burning Stars by AK Small (ballet and Paris—yes, please)
· The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (this historical fiction about first loves and fate is technically an adult read but easily crosses to YA – set in both 1950s Tehran and present-day Boston)
· It’s a Whole Spiel edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman (cannot wait for this anthology with Jewish characters who are diverse in sexuality, race, and level of observance)
7. Do you write to music? If so, what artist were you listening to while writing TRUE?
The opening lines of the song 24 Frames by Jason Isbell made me think of Ruth: “This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing/And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love that she/Gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing.”
In a more vintage mood, I also made a Spotify playlist for TRUE – songs that Ruth (and Gracie and Davis) would have listened to and loved….and it really inspired me as I was trying to imagine the twists and turns, political and otherwise, of 1958
Great Balls of Fire — Jerry Lee Lewis
Sh-Boom — The Crew Cuts
Love me Tender — Elvis Presley
At the Hop — Danny and the Juniors
Wake Up Little Susie —The Everly Brothers
Blue Suede Shoes — Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley
In the Still of the Light — Five Satins
St. Thomas — Sonny Rollins
Rock Around the Clock — Bill Haley and His Comets
Tutti Fruitti — Little Richard
That’ll Be the Day — The Crickets
I Walk the Line — Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Twos
Why Do Fools Fall in Love — Teenagers
You Send Me — Sam Cooke