There Goes the Neighborhood by Jade Adia. Hyperion, 2023. 9781368084321
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Rhea, a nerdy, smart Black girl, lives in Kofa Park, a vital and diverse corner of South L.A. Since she was a little girl, she’s spent every minute with her two best friends, Zeke (LatinX and queer) and Malachi (Black and lately looking cuter and cuter). But Rhea’s noticing a lot of changes in the neighborhood as White-owned businesses push out the local mom-and-pop establishments. Then eviction notices start arriving and Rhea’s hard-won extended family is threatened. The three teens put their heads together and decide to create a make-believe gang, complete with tags and a social media presence, hoping to scare away White newcomers and developers. What could go wrong with that plan? Soon one of the White slumlords turns up dead in a dumpster and police finger Zeke as the suspect. It’s up to Rhea, Malachi, and 2 newcomers named Marley and Lou to solve the murder mystery and clear their friend’s name.
This was a promising first novel with a lot of memorable characters and a great sense of place. Kofa Park residents include a trans woman named Auntie Inga, who’s an advocate for all the kids and organizes a saner opposition to gentrification. Lou (Zeke’s love interest) represents another intersectionality element: he’s gay and on the autism spectrum. Despite the hard times that the teens have experienced (Rhea’s relationship with her mom is fractured, Zeke’s mom is disabled, and all three have been traumatized by the loss of a friend to gang violence) I found the depiction of Kofa Park as a vital and compassionate community compelling. The teen romances (Rhea and Malachi, Zeke and Lou) felt both absorbing and rushed, in other words, totally authentic.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The book would have benefited from more editing and fewer characters and red herrings. It shifts at the midpoint from looking at the impact of gentrification (the stronger part of the book) to solving the murder of the dead white guy (or DWG, as the kids refer to the case); I found the ScoobyDoo part of the story less successful. More discussion of the issues around gentrification would have been great: when do local people benefit? How can neighborhoods and cities solve this problem? In the end, neither Auntie’s protest or the fake gang plan brings about the change Rhea needs to save Kofa Park.
To whom would you recommend this book? Teens interested in income inequality or racial justice issues would enjoy this book. FYI: although the characters in the book are 15, the language (frequent obscenities, liberal use of racial slurs) make it a better fit for older teens. Read alouds would include I Rise (2022) by Marie Arnold and anything by Angie Thomas.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: March 28, 2023
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