In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton takes place in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958. After the death of her father, Ruth Robb moves from New York City to Atlanta with her little sister, Natalie, and her mom, Alice. Atlanta is where Alice grew up and “came out” (in the debutante sense, that is). Alice left Atlanta to attend Sarah Lawrence in New York and ended up converting to Judaism to marry a Jewish man and raise her daughters as Jews. Ruth, upon arriving in Atlanta as a junior in high school, is immediately encouraged by her grandmother to get involved in pre-debutante activities. In order for this to happen, she will have to conceal her faith.
In the meantime, Ruth’s mom still wants them to be active in the Jewish community and joins the local temple which is actively engaged in the Civil Rights struggle for African Americans. If Ruth wants to attend deb preparation meetings, she will also be required to attend Shabbat services. Keeping these two parts of her life separate becomes more difficult when Ruth begins to date Davis Jefferson (not Jefferson Davis, but also a clear indication of his family’s views on Civil Rights and Jewish people).
This book, written in Ruth’s voice, does a wonderful job of conveying the challenges of trying to fit in when you know that your truth is a more powerful tool for justice. Sometimes long term happiness takes a back seat to immediate satisfaction and Ruth discovers which she would prefer throughout the course of this story. While In the Neighborhood of Truth is Ruth’s story, and told from Ruth’s perspective, Davis also has a story to tell. His might be even more important for teens to read and consider because it deals with the difficulty of confronting one’s own complicity in acts of injustice. This is a book about a city 60 years in the past, but it is also timeless in its depiction of ethical dilemmas that continue to affect all of us today.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of and comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.
Identity 3: I know that all my group identities and the intersection of those identities create unique aspects of who I am and that this is true for other people too.
Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.
Justice 12: I can recognize, describe and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.