I’ve never given the summary of a book up front but with We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White, I feel the need to do so. If only because I want everyone to understand the potential of this book. I don’t want everyone to just hear my review of the book. I want everyone to matter-of-factly read what it is about and why I chose it.
Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I am very picky about the adult books I choose to read and review. And I really believed, from the moment I read the summary you will read that it was timely and important to our current times (sad as that might be), while having the potential of being a great story, as well.
From the author of A Place at the Table and A Soft Place to Land, an “intense, complex, and wholly immersive” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author) multigenerational novel that explores the complex relationship between two very different women and the secrets they bequeath to their daughters.
Eve Whalen, privileged child of an old-money Atlanta family, meets Daniella Gold in the fall of 1962, on their first day at Belmont College. Paired as roommates, the two become fast friends. Daniella, raised in Georgetown by a Jewish father and a Methodist mother, has always felt caught between two worlds. But at Belmont, her bond with Eve allows her to finally experience a sense of belonging. That is, until the girls’ expanding awareness of the South’s systematic injustice forces them to question everything they thought they knew about the world and their places in it.
Eve veers toward radicalism—a choice pragmatic Daniella cannot fathom. After a tragedy, Eve returns to Daniella for help in beginning anew, hoping to shed her past. But the past isn’t so easily buried, as Daniella and Eve discover when their daughters are endangered by secrets meant to stay hidden.
Spanning more than thirty years of American history, from the twilight of Kennedy’s Camelot to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, We Are All Good People Here is “a captivating…meaningful, resonant story” (Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted) about two flawed but well-meaning women clinging to a lifelong friendship that is tested by the rushing waters of history and their own good intentions.
I went as far as discussing this book with my mom, who lived through the civil rights movement. I did this for two reasons. First, well not because I’m not an idiot (well I’m not a genus either), nor because I don’t have any idea what the civil rights movement was, or what occurred during that time. However, I am quite aware that I didn’t live through it. And much like those who talk about 9/11, but weren’t in New York City that day, your feelings and experiences are valid, they just aren’t the same.
Second, because researching White before requesting the book and again, after reading the book, I found her to be a best-selling novelist who with four novels has become steadily better overtime, critically acclaimed and nominated for numerous awards throughout this time.
However, having talked to my mom my conclusion was quite the same. While her research is solid. There isn’t a gap in her awareness or knowledge in the thirty years that this story traverses. The issue is that in her dogmatic need to nail the history, she forgot … the story.
The plot is slow. The characters become bland. The promise of familiar bonds that are stretched over secrets dug up from the past lose the suspense that should have you hanging rooting for or against one and/or more of these characters (I don’t want to give anything away should you choose to read it).
Because I could never buy-in to the characters from the get-go, I never really felt their inner-turmoil. I never felt thrown into the gut-wrenching decisions or situations they faced. The lives they lived, what they faced and how it affected them down the road fell flat because it was more like reading a history book than a fictional story.
I am not a writer and I am not saying it is easy to weave the two, although I have read books where it is done splendidly. However, it is just not done in We Are All Good People Here, which is a shame because the potential for a great story within great context was definitely there.
Full Disclaimer: There is a horrific animal brutality scene involving a cat. This did not help matters- especially with me. Take it for what it is worth. This does not spoil anything- but I think it is fair to disclose knowing how I feel about animal brutality, especially with my three boys. Lord knows it didn’t help the Devouring Grey.