“How well do you ever really know the family next door?
Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled.
Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs, she’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.
Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.”
My Thoughts: I have had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Pekkanen once or twice, and she is truly the loveliest person. So, it always slays me when I am not able to gush about one of her novels. I do not want to hurt her feelings in any way, but I have to be honest. Such is the case with The Perfect Neighbors.
In all honesty, The Perfect Neighbors is not her best novel. There is a lack of mystery and action throughout the story that lessens the pleasure one gains from reading it. The entire premise is a bit tedious. After all, it should be no surprise to anyone that we never really know what is happening in other people’s lives, whether they are our best friends or passing acquaintances. The secrets that the neighbors of Newport Cove keep are also no great surprise, as they touch on the same tropes we see in almost every women’s fiction novel. The entire novel feels flat and just a bit bored with itself, and there are even times where it feels as if Ms. Pekkanen threw in a problem because she did not know what else to write.
What Ms. Pekkanen does do well in all of her novels, and The Perfect Neighbors is no exception, is capture the emotional realities of life. Most readers will be able to relate to surly teenagers and the chaos of the morning routine. Working moms will recognize the guilt and pressure to be a supermom. All of her characters are enjoyable and honest.
Yet, in The Perfect Neighbors, her characters are not very relatable to the general public. The general wealth of the neighborhood and their collective successes at whatever they set out to do makes this more a fairy tale than real life for most readers. There are none of the sticky issues the main readership faces – like being able to pay the bills or buy groceries, nasty divorce proceedings, not being able to find employment, etc. While Tessa has the most realistic problems of the bunch, the reveal is anticlimactic. The fact that she is able to get away with her actions makes for a good story but forces the story to lose any gravitas gained by the serious nature of her particular secret.
At the end of the day, The Perfect Neighbors is escapist literature and nothing more. No one is going to have an epiphany reading it. Instead, readers are going to read it and pretend that their biggest problems in life are as relatively simple as Kellie’s, Susan’s, and Gigi’s. In Tessa, Ms. Pekkanen tries to bring in a more serious note but fails due to the offhanded method by which she resolves that particular crisis. In short, the novel is wishful thinking at its finest. If you love that sort of thing, then The Perfect Neighbors is an excellent choice for a summer read.