Sarah Pekkanen turns her scrutiny to the every-day women living in bucolic Newport Cove in THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS, where picture-perfect lives play out like a modern day Pleasantville, while dark secrets and insecurities bubble just below the surface.
Newport Cove is one of the safest neighborhoods in the US, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers. Here everyone lives out the American Dream – cute kids, strong marriages, burgeoning careers – but what really goes on behind closed doors?
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. But the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house, and there’s something a bit off about her husband. Soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.
Addictive and keenly-observed, THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS will keep you guessing whose secrets will be revealed til the very end, making it perfect for Summer reading and neighborhood book clubs.
About the Author:
Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, The Best of Us, Catching Air, and Things You Won’t Say. 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.
Q&A WITH SARAH:
What was the inspiration for your seventh novel, THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS?
I can follow the roots of THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS back more than a decade, to a morning when I was suddenly cornered by a threatening man. It was a gray, drizzly November day, and I arrived at the zoo with my infant and two-year-old sons just moments after it opened. After we stepped into a small, deserted building to view an exhibit, I looked up to see a man striding down the narrow hallway, his eyes locked on me and his face empty of expression. Had I been alone, I suspect I would have cowered or run. Yet because my children were threatened, I reacted fiercely.
I lifted my two-year-old up onto my hip and cradled him with my left arm, next to the baby in a carrier on my chest, while thrusting my other hand toward the man’s face and screaming, “Stop!” The man paused, just inches away, and stared at me, assessing me. I knew I would fight him, and that I would win, and I let him see this certainty in my eyes.
He eventually turned and sauntered away without a word. Later, I realized the man had given me two clues that revealed his intentions: He’d walked directly toward me without glancing at the exhibits lining the hallway as he passed, and just before he reached me, he’d turned and glanced behind him. He’d wanted to make sure no one else was coming. I don’t want to spoil the plot of THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS, but I can say this incident – and the powerful feelings it conjured in me… that I would do whatever necessary to protect my children – inspired the plotline for my seventh novel.
Wow – it sounds a bit darker than most of your novels, which fall into the women’s fiction category.
Not necessarily. I’ve written books about a range of morally complex and controversial issues, including the fictional shooting of a Hispanic teenager by a white police officer in THINGS YOU WON’T SAY. Women’s fiction doesn’t mean a book is light – every woman I know faces struggles, even if they’re not readily apparent in the glossy, Facebooked lives we tend to present publically. In fact, that’s a theme of the novel, too: My four main characters – all mothers who live in a bucolic, tree-lined neighborhood where children play outside and neighbors hold spontaneous block parties – are each hiding a secret. As Gigi, one of my main characters, puts it: “The dozens of women she passed every day – the women peering at the covers of tabloids in the grocery store check out lane, and waiting in line with a preoccupied gaze at the bank, and putting on lipstick at the red light in the next car over in traffic – were all holders of mysteries.”
Is it difficult to write from the points of view of four different narrators, as you’ve done in this book?
Books are like children, in that they each present unique joys and challenges. For some reason – and I hope I don’t tempt the writing gods to punish me by revealing this – THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS came more easily to me than any other novel I’ve written. I couldn’t wait to sit down at the keyboard and see where my characters would take me every day. It’s always bittersweet when you finish a novel and say good-bye to your characters, but I especially miss these women. Maybe it’s because they formed such a supportive community, and writing can be isolating – like motherhood can be at times. I felt like a part of that fictional community when I shared their stories.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you started writing.
I’ve always wanted to write. When I was a kid, I actually used to pen novels on three-ring binder paper and mail them to top New York publishers. I was always surprised when publishers passed on my masterpieces, like Miscellaneous Tales and Poems.
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I love reading – I always have a few books going at a time. Hiking with my rescue lab, crushing on Blake Shelton on “The Voice,” and seeing movies. And of course, hanging out with my three sons tops the list.
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
Caring for my sons and writing one novel a year are my full-time jobs. I’m very lucky to be able to earn a living by writing, and to have a career that gives me flexibility.
Where do you get your ideas?
I honestly have no idea! They never come to me in a flash, fully-formed. What I would give for that! Instead, they tend to come together slowly. I always think of my book plots as a kind of stew – I add ingredients, like an unusual setting or a particular crisis I want a character to grapple with – and let the ideas simmer a bit. Then I toss more elements into the stew and let it simmer, and repeat until my ideas seem fully cooked.
Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
Jennifer Weiner. She writes in such an engaging and warm style, yet her plots are so compelling you can’t stop turning the pages. Plus, she’s an incredibly generous and kind human being who is an incredible champion of female writers. She’s a terrific role model.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The trick is you need to have a complete novel before you approach an agent. So the biggest challenge is a mental one: Are you so committed to writing a book that you’re willing to spend literally years of your life on a project with no guaranteed positive outcome? I knew I had to write books, but when you’re up late at night, feeling tired and struggling with thoughts that won’t cooperate when you’re trying to translate them onto the page, it can be easy to get discouraged and wonder if you’ll ever have a book published. But if the desire to write is stronger, you can’t stop.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
Not a single thing. I adore my agent, my editor, and my publishing house. My experience has been pretty wonderful.
How do you market your work?
Lots of interviews (like this one!) and I’m very active on social media. Atria Books also sends me on book tours around the country so I connect with readers and booksellers when I’m touring.
What are you working on now?
I’m always working on a new book!
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences?
Not really, but I have experienced all of the emotions of my characters – in order to write convincingly, I need to feel what my characters are feeling. So I cry when I write wrenching scenes, and I rejoice when things go well for my characters.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
The ending of Skipping a Beat may be my favorite finale of any of my books.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t overthink things, just write. Get down a page a day, minimum. If you do that, you’ll have the draft of a book in a year.
What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
Truthfully, there are no real downfalls. This is a dream job. I’m doing what I have always wanted to do, and in many ways, it’s so much better than I imagined. When someone takes the time to enter the fictional world you’ve created, and engage with it, they transform it. I cherish every email and Facebook and twitter message I receive, and I try to respond to every one personally.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
A huge thank you for supporting me. I would not have this job without you.
SARAH PEKKANEN’S NOVELS ARE…
“Gripping reading.” —People
“Sparkling.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A standout among standouts.” —Glamour
“Compelling.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Fresh, funny, and satisfying.” —Jennifer Weiner, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Page-turners.” —Marie Claire
“Fantastic and realistic.” —Examiner.com
“Smart and soulful.” —Redbook
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