Staffer: Tara D. McKinney, correspondent
What I read: "The Neighbors are Watching" by Debra Ginsberg
Synopsis: There's something rotten below the surface of the middle class San Diego neighborhood when pregnant teenager, Diana Jones, shows up at her biological father's door unannounced.
Her father, Joe Montana, is a restaurant manager married to school teacher Allison Montana. Diana's very existence comes as unpleasant shock to Allison as Joe never mentioned that he fathered a child with his ex-girlfriend 17 years ago.
Joe's omission brings Allison's existing resentments to a boil. Things in the quiet Carmel Valley cul-de-sac really heat up, sparking a disturbing chain of events is set off as the Witch Creek and Harris wildfires of 2007 rage in San Diego. Half a million residents are forced to evacuate and in the confusion of the smoke and ashes, Diana goes missing, leaving her newborn baby behind.
On the same street as the Montanas, lives an uptight housewife with an unsavory past, her druggie son and domineering husband.
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Next door to them resides a lesbian couple recently forced to give up custody of their sons from previous marriages, seemingly out of place in the white bread suburban neighborhood.
Down the street is a family no one ever sees except for the son who occasionally shoots hoops on the drive way.
Across the street, a trashy former reality TV star has forced her father into a nursing home so she can receive a steady stream of gentleman callers at all hours of the night.
As the Santa Ana winds whip up the fire, the entire neighborhood tries to hold onto their carefully kept secrets, but Diana's disappearance forces them to come together to find her and the truth starts to burn through the glossy surface of the carefully kept neighborhood.
Stats: Published by Broadway Books in August 2011, 336 pages.
What I thought: The book began like the opening sequence of the television show "Desperate Housewives" with the neighbors sneaking furtive peaks at Diana Jones' pregnant belly through the blinds.
When the characters were first introduced, they each seemed to be very unlikeable and self-centered. No one in the neighborhood is actually friends with each other and they only interact at the annual block party or to wave as they pass in the street.
In the beginning of the novel, their lives are lived very separately and for good reason, the only thing they have in common is the street they live on.
When Diana Jones enters the scene, she starts hanging out with the neighborhood pothead, much to the disapproval of her father and Kevin's parents.
The only character I could relate to was Sam, the saner half of the lesbian couple. She did her best to help Diana and her baby when they were in need. Otherwise, everyone else was just pretty much despicable.
The book was not uplifting, but rather dark and suspenseful. It was a nice change from my usual steady diet of young adult fiction and chic lit. It made me question how well we really know our neighbors. Could the people across the street be hiding a drug addiction or holding someone captive behind those Pottery Barn curtains?
With all the horrific events happening daily in the news, the secrets and scandals of the San Diego neighborhood seemed frighteningly realistic. What makes ordinary people commit crimes and how hard must it be to conceal guilty secrets?
As each character developed, their foibles and insecurities were brought to light, but instead of inspiring understanding and warmth towards them, all I could feel was despair and disgust.
I really liked the author's writing style and thought her plot was clever with all of its little twists. It was a bit hard to follow and remember each character's back story, but that was my only real complaint about the book. I wanted to find out what happened to Diana so badly, that I read well into the night and picked it back up as soon as my kids were in school for the day. Despite a few slow patches, this book was definitely a page-turner and made me want to keep a closer eye on my neighbors.
What I'm reading next: "Dearest Cousin Jane" by Jill Pitkeathley