Perfectly Nice Neighbors

Perfectly Nice Neighbors, Kia Abdullah's fiery domestic thriller, opens with Salma and Bilal Khatun having just moved to a well-manicured suburb, looking for a fresh start for themselves and their teenage son, Zain, who had some trouble at his last school. Instead of finding peace of mind, the Bangladeshi family encounters a nightmare with the white and perfectly nice neighbors of the novel's title. Said neighbors are Willa and Tom Hutton, who seem cordial enough at the neighborhood barbecue Salma and Bilal attend upon their arrival. The Huttons' son, Jamie, even strikes up an instant friendship with Zain. But one day, Salma sees Tom surreptitiously throw a ball into her yard to dislodge Zain's sign proclaiming "Black Lives Matter." Caught between her husband's desire to not provoke their new neighbors and her wish to support her son, Salma takes the sign inside and puts it in the front window. The next morning, the window where the sign sits is vandalized. Accusations fly, followed by episodes of escalating violence, and ending in tragedy that leaves no one unscathed.

Alternating the chapters between Salma's, Willa's, and Zain's points of view, Abdullah (Next of Kin; Truth Be Told) provides a devastating glimpse into how people who believe themselves reasonable can be triggered to commit shocking acts. Perfectly Nice Neighbors is a gut-punching treatise on the insidiousness of racism, and the ways in which empathy and measured discussions are almost impossible in the social media-fueled age of knee-jerk reactions. Abdullah takes care to allow each narrator moments of grace and humanity, and neither condones her characters' actions nor paints them as villains. They all live in the gray, where aggression is in the eye of the beholder. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, reviewer and freelance editor at The Edit Ninja

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