One of Glamour’s Best Books of Summer*An Us Weekly Trending Title “A delicious beach read.” –People “Relatable characters round out a fun, fast read.” –Good Housekeeping “A compelling, suspenseful tale.” –Kirkus Reviews “The perfect summer read.” –Booklist
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.
This reading group guide for The Perfect Neighbors includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Throughout the novel, Newport Cove’s residents hold their status as one of the twenty safest neighborhoods in the United States as a point of pride. Yet each of the four female narrators feels unsafe in some way, due to the secrets she is holding. Do you think people need to feel emotionally safe in order to feel physically safe, and vice versa?
2. In a series of flashbacks, we observe that Tessa “tried to do everything right” after her baby Bree was born, but quickly “felt as if she was failing her daughter” (p. 22). How does her anxiety about the “right” way to be a mother impact her children and/or her marriage? How have you observed this pressure in your own life, or in the lives of your friends or family? If you have children, how have your beliefs about how to best raise them been affected by the opinions of “experts”?
3. When it comes to her children’s safety, Tessa grows to believe she is paranoid or too sensitive, to the point where she becomes wary of raising an alarm when she thinks something is seriously wrong. Do you think it is generally better to be overly suspicious or overly cautious? What are the drawbacks of each, as portrayed in the novel?
4. Kellie initially thinks that because she and Miller have never kissed, she is not cheating on her husband. Is “emotional cheating” really cheating? Why or why not? How would you respond if a significant other acted as Kellie did? Have you ever been tempted to slip into emotional infidelity, and if so, how did you deal with the situation?
5. “Facebook stalking wasn’t something she was proud of” (p. 280). Was Susan’s Facebook stalking relatable or an invasion of privacy? Is Facebook stalking a normal part of having a crush/getting over a breakup, or is it self-destructive?
6. For much of the novel, Susan feels incapable of letting go of the past, at one point despairing that “sometimes, though, people didn’t adjust” (p. 233) to an ex moving on. In what ways does Susan’s struggle with her divorce mirror the issues her friends are dealing with? What keeps people from moving forward? Looking at these protagonists, where do you see them ultimately exhibiting personal growth?
7. Susan begins dating only after realizing that her son recognizes that she misses his father. To what extent should the desires of someone’s children impact their dating choices—and should a parent end a relationship if her children don’t like it? Furthermore, do you think falling for someone new is a prerequisite to getting over a past love?
8. What did you initially suspect had happened to Tessa and Harry before they moved to Newport Cove? What did you think of the ultimate revelation, and how did it affect your feelings toward these characters? Why do you think the author ended that story line the way she did?
9. “She’d been waiting for it to come, but she still felt zero guilt” (p. 332). Reread this scene as a group and discuss your reactions to this line. Do you think you would have felt the same in Tessa’s shoes?
10. Besides injecting doses of humor into the narrative, what role does the Newport Cove listserv fill? What sense of the community, or of the individual characters, does it provide? Were there any messages in the listserv digests that echoed larger themes from the novel? Discuss a few of your favorite emails.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Look through the listserv digest sections for some of the characters whose voices we get a real sense of, but whose story is not directly addressed, such as Shannon Dockser, Tally White, or Frank Fitzgibbons. Try writing a scene from their perspective, about the goings-on of the neighborhood or what you imagine their lives are like. Share your writing pieces as a group.
2. In The Perfect Neighbors, Sarah Pekkanen has crafted a cast of diverse characters, all of whom leap off the page. If the novel became a film, who would you envision in the lead roles?
3. Consider reading one of Sarah Pekkanen’s other novels (such as Things You Won’t Say, These Girls, or The Best of Us) for your group’s next meeting, and compare the major themes of your selection with those in The Perfect Neighbors. You can also connect with Sarah Pekkanen on Facebook and Twitter, and learn more about Sarah’s books or invite her to Skype your book club by visiting: www.sarahpekkanen.com.
Sarah Pekkanen is the bestselling author of The Ever After, The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, The Best of Us, Catching Air, Things You Won’t Say, and The Perfect Neighbors. Her work has been published in People, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY, among other publications. She lives with her family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Praise for The Perfect Neighbors: “Pekkanen deftly intertwines four stories into a tapestry depicting the frayed seams underlying small-town American domesticity. A mistress of women's fiction, Pekkanen transforms clichéd suburban troubles—from adolescent drama to infidelity—into a compelling, suspenseful tale.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“A gossipy page-turner.”
“Pekkanen uncovers the hopes, heartbreaks, and indiscretions that lurk behind a community’s carefully maintained façade in this engrossing novel reminiscent of Liane Moriarty’s suburban-set mysteries. Women’s fiction star Pekkanen’s latest novel will be energetically promoted as the perfect summer read.”
Praise for Things You Won't Say: "Gripping reading"
"A standout among standouts."
"A gripping story of racial profiling, PTSD, and the threads that hold people together. You'll forget it's fiction."