The Neighbors are watching by Debra Ginsberg

(No Series)

Set against the backdrop of the deadly 2007 wildfires that forced the evacuation of half a million San Diego residents, Debra Ginsberg’s new novel, The Neighbors Are Watching, examines the dark side of suburbia—a place where everyone has something to hide.

Aside from their annual block party, the neighbors on Fuller Court tend to keep to themselves—which doesn’t mean that they aren’t all watching and judging each other on the sly. So when pregnant teenager Diana Jones shows up, literally, on her biological father's doorstep, the neighbors can't stop talking. Joe Montana is a handsome restaurant manager who failed to tell his wife Allison that he fathered a baby with an ex-girlfriend seventeen years ago. Allison, already harboring her own inner resentments, takes the news very badly. She isn’t the only one. Diana's bombshell arrival in their quiet cul-de-sac sets off a chain reaction of secrets and lies that threaten to engulf the neighborhood along with the approaching flames from two huge wildfires fanned by the Santa Ana winds.

A former reality TV contestant who receives a steady stream of gentlemen callers at all hours, two women forced to hide their relationship in order to keep custody of their children, a sanctimonious housewife with a very checkered past, and a family who nobody ever sees—these are just a few of the warring neighbors struggling to keep up appearances and protect their own interests. But when lovely, troubled Diana disappears in the aftermath of the wildfire evacuation, leaving her newborn baby and many unanswered questions behind, the residents of Fuller Court must band together to find her before all of their carefully constructed deceptions come unraveled.

A potent blend of domestic drama and suspense, The Neighbors Are Watching reveals the secrets that bloom alongside manicured flowerbeds—and the truths that lurk behind closed doors.

This book was depressing, uplifting, and makes you think. Isn't that the focus of most great books? There are multiple themes here -- at first the nosiness and judging of neighbors, to end with being sure to watch and know what your neighbors are about. At first sounds conflicting, but the change in perspective makes sense here. The biggest theme really seemed to be with children  - through one character being alone, young and pregnant, to another woman who regrets all these years an abortion she had, to a father who never paid attention to having children, to a father who over dominates his child, and to tragic characters who lost their children due to their lifestyles. The pain of all is present through the book, the overwhelming burden of caring for a child, the aching emptiness when they're not there any longer.

You may imagine - and I would guess if hearing this description - that this book would be melodramatic. Fortunately it is not - the author Debra Ginsberg writes it in an almost detached way, yet laying out scenes which are emotionally wrenching, very deep, and very real. It's like looking inside a glass house at something played out, the real emotion of the persons mind and secret suffering played out to you.

There are secrets in the book and the back of the novel plays up on this for the sake of the story, and it's shown how devastating secrets can be, but really this takes a back story. It's not the secrets that help doom these people, but human selfish nature, even more prevalent than keeping things hidden. While their selfishness is not villain-worthy and one-dimensional, it is realistic and biting. How things could be so different, we see as we read and as we finish the read, had they only lived less in themselves. It's ironic the book starts out with nosy people wanting to pry into others lives, while they keep so much hidden from even their own families. It ends with things exposed and healing but changes from prying for gossip sake to prying for community bonding and emotional support.

Ginsberg has created a neighborhood of characters that are very real and, even when they're not traveling moral streets, their actions make sense without having to display much back story and reasoning. It's just the way it is. Pacing is a little slow as it's more of a character introspection type story. Despite the back blurb and the cover, this not a suspense novel and is most definitely a top-notch drama. There is a mystery of what happens but it takes a back story to the tragedy of that mystery.

I have given four stars rather than five due to a bit too much detachment for my taste the first quarter of the book. I feel it could have grabbed more of my attention had it delved further into the characters with a unity which would befit it. The middle and end shone, however, with worthy points, extreme emotion, and the last page splashes on humans being able to change with uplifting clarity.

Definitely recommended for any reader of any genre.

   Book Quotes:

“One never really knew what went on inside the hearts of other people, even those hearts you thought you knew as well as your own.” 

“But Allison always finished what she started. It was both a saving grace and a tragic flaw.” 

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