In the Neighborhood of True is a coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s South that ties Judaism, the Civil Rights movement, grief, and high school politics together in a way that feels mostly effortless and completely sincere. After the death of her father, Ruth’s mother has moved her and her younger sister out of New York and back to her original family home in Atlanta for a fresh start. When Ruth begins to be included in the popular group of girls in her high school, she decides to keep the fact that she is Jewish a secret, as she longs to be accepted into their Christian social group.
That secret becomes harder and harder to keep as she becomes more involved with her temple and the civil rights efforts her rabbi is spearheading. She falls easily into both groups — with the society girls who take classes in etiquette, go to football games, and date good-looking boys, and with the members of her temple, her newfound Jewish base. And of course the tugs on her heart are not helpful — with the handsome and romantic Davis taking a shine to her right away, while intelligent and complicated Max “argues (see flirts) with her” every chance he gets.
But Ruth struggles; to let go of her grief over losing her father, to keep her secret from all her friends, and to balance all of that with the society events coming up, her ever-growing attachment to the boy her Mom already doesn’t like, and the nagging feeling in her gut that tells her she’s doing everything just a little wrong. And while Ruth has her internal struggles, bubbling underneath the surface of a kind and friendly town lurks the fear of the Other — and that fear and anger makes itself known loudly and dangerously.
Ruth has to figure out who she is and what she stands for, and on that journey, she makes mistakes and allies. High school is hard enough, but Ruth is determined to find the right place for herself — even if that means losing some very important people. But how much is Ruth willing to lose to be her most authentic self?
Evie Saphire-Bernstein is the program director of Jewish Book Council. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.A. in English and a minor in Jewish Studies. Before joining the Jewish Book Council team in 2015, she spent a year and a half working within the Conservative Movement as the Network Liaison for the Schechter Day School Network. She is a recent transplant to New York City, after living in Chicago for most of her life. In her spare time, Evie is a writer and blogger.