Book Review: Art Imitates Reality in Jade Adia’s Unforgettable and Important Debut Novel “There Goes the Neighborhood”


Jade Adia image via Jade Adia

There Goes The Neigborhood
By Jade Adia
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

A raised fist against the destructive forces of gentrification and a love letter to communities of color everywhere, author Jade Adia's unforgettable debut tells the darkly entertaining story of three best friends willing to do whatever it takes to stay together. There Goes the Neighborhood is a long-awaited young adult novel in which art imitates a confronting reality, teaching and entertaining readers from the perspective of teenagers of color growing up in modern-day America.

The gang is fake, but the fear is real.

Rhea’s neighborhood is fading away―the mom-and-pop shops of her childhood forced out to make space for an artisanal kombucha brewery here, a hot yoga studio there. And everywhere, the feeling that this place is no longer meant for her. Because while their little corner of South L.A. isn’t perfect, to Rhea and her two best friends, it’s something even more important―it’s home. And it’s worth protecting.

But as more white people flock to their latest edgy, urban paradise for its cheap rent and sparkling new Whole Foods, more of Rhea’s friends and family are pushed out. Until Rhea decides it’s time to push back. Armed with their cellphones and a bag of firecrackers, the friends manipulate social media to create the illusion of gang violence in their neighborhood. All Rhea wanted to do was protect her community. Her friends. Herself. No one was supposed to get hurt. No one was supposed to die.

Is anyone ever really safe when you’re fighting power with fear?

No blurb or summary of this story fully captures the transcending and powerful messages that exist at every level and on every page of this book. In Adia’s own words, “This story seeks to put names and faces to the human cost of gentrification without losing sight of the creativity of those resisting the tidal waves of erasure.” This foundation is padded with friendship, growing pains, love interests, skeletons-in-closets and a murder mystery, which make the tale not only a critical lesson in heavy-hitting issues, but an interesting and compelling story. The author’s passion is articulately and importantly shared via letter at the beginning of the book and provides greater context and meaning beyond just what Rhea, Malachi and Zeke are up against. I excerpt most of the letter here, because frankly, Adia says it better than I can or could ever truly comprehend:

Dear Reader,

I wrote this book while quarantined with my family during the summer of 2020. These were the months when we all witnessed an incredible outpouring of support for #BlackLives Matter, but also so much pain. Writing felt like a way to cope with the anxiety of the moment while also creating a space for myself to imagine Black and brown teens thriving alongside their found family, falling in love, and being absolutely ridiculous.

Communities of color are the culture-bearers of many cities, yet we are currently facing the threat of displacement. My own home in South LA is one of such spaces undergoing tremendous change. It’s home to West Coast hip-hop, braid shops, lowrider shows, and some of the best damn pupusas in the country. It’s a sacred place where many people feel rooted because of their connections to neighbors, local businesses and loved ones that share the block. However, it’s recently become a real estate “hot spot” where longtime residents are being pushed out….

Believe it or not, this book is a comedy! A story that finds the silliness inherent within the absurdities of capitalism and asks: How can we grapple with the systemic racisms that share our lives while still centering the excitement of being young and Black, the warmth of feeling held by your community, the euphoria of a first kiss at the weekly drum circle with the flavor of a mango paleta still lingering on your lips?

There Goes the Neighborhood is an important and educational novel. Addressing SO many issues, including the almighty influence of social media, this story is one among many that was begging to be told, and does so from the perspective and voice of protagonist Rhea, who sheds real and raw light on her experiences and those of her friends. Adia did an expertly creative and thoughtful job which serves readers of all backgrounds. As both insight and lesson, this debut novel should be added to every high school reading list.

Adia concludes her opening letter with the following:

My dream for you, reader, is to walk away from this book reflecting on how change shapes our lives and our connections to one another. Thank you for coming along for this wild ride and opening yourself to all the messiness and contradictions ahead.

Not only did I walk away from this book reflecting on how change shapes our lives and connections to one another, I came away with a bit more of an understanding of the lived experiences of people of color in the sorts of circumstances and situations that the characters in the novel find themselves in. While I certainly still don’t know enough, every little bit helps in trying to navigate the “messiness and contradictions” of the world around us. Another critical question I have been thinking on this week which was prompted by this book is “How can I help?” After all, are any of us ever really safe when we are fighting power with fear?

There Goes the Neighborhood will be released on March 7, 2023.