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Neighbors and Other Stories

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"I keep trying," he said to her, "to tell myself that somebody's got to be the first one . . ."

As a little boy plays quietly in his room, his family frets over the fact that the next day that sweet youngster will be the first black child to set foot in a segregated school.

Diane Oliver delved deeply into what it was like to be the first: the first to walk into a school while ignoring a jeering crowd, the first to boldly sit at a restricted lunch counter, the first young woman to attend an all-white university.

"She had a difficult time trying to think of something in which to major . . . She was fairly adept in biology, but the department scheduled field trips throughout the year. And even if the motels were supposedly integrated, she hated to be involved in testing them, so she had to major in something that didn't involve people or embarrassing scenes."

So much to consider before taking that first move . . .

Oliver was quite the chronicler of the black life in America during the tumultuous fifties and sixties, but her writing encompasses much more than that. With strong characters, and genre bending themes, this young author was set to go far. She died in a motorcycle accident in 1966, her life and promising career cut short. In 2022, her sister discovered eight unpublished stories that were collected here with the few that were published in magazines and anthologies before her death. Her work offers a strong voice, and a unique perspective.

"Sometimes Meetrie didn't believe her when she told the children about the food the Nelsons had for breakfast. Talking about bacon and waffles made Meetrie's eyes shine. 'For real?' she would ask, pulling her top pigtail. 'For real?'

And sometimes when she was pouring those cornflakes into the four cups and stretching the powdered milk with more water than the welfare lady ever intended, she didn't believe herself."

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The author of these short stories died in 1966 at the age of 22. At that time, only 4 of her stories had been published. Although they were excellent, it took until now for someone to track down her unpublished stories and publish them all in this collection. Her work showed a lot of promise, and it is a great loss that we did not get to see how her work progressed.

The stories are of their time, but also timeless. Her characters are well-developed, the situations are realistic and she was also very good with dialog. The protagonists are chiefly southern Black women.

My favorite story was “Neighbors” about the conflicted feelings of a family that is about to send their young son to integrate an all white school. “The Closet on the Top Floor” also deals with the pressures of being the only black face in a white environment. In “Mint Juleps Not Served Here”, a family goes to great lengths to escape. The ending reminded me of Patricia Highsmith. In “Banago Kalt”, a young woman is treated as an exotic specimen when she visits Switzerland. The only story that really didn’t appeal to me was “Frozen Voices”, a structurally experimental work that went on too long.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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This was an interesting collection of 14 short stories following a slew of characters delving deep into the day-to-day perils of Jim Crow racism. Each story was perfectly layered and varied with its own uniqueness. The reader never really knows how much the author is going to give before bringing the story to a close. We get themes surrounding trauma, the day-to-day reality of growing up black in America, and heart-breaking revelations of being a parent in this era.

Of the 14 stories the last two Our Trip To The Nature Museum and Spiders Cry Without Tears were the longest and most in-depth but none of the stories felt incomplete or rushed. There were a couple that did leave me wanting more so I see that as a good thing.

With any collection there are always a few that stand out among the rest. But each story written highlights characters being placed in unconventional situations.

Neighbors- follows a family as they prepare for their son Tommy to attend a desegregated school.

The Closet On The Top Floor- follows Winifred (Chicken) attending college as the only black student where her presence is immediately recognized.

Health Service- We follow Libby a mother of many children which she can’t seem to handle on her own as she takes them to the clinic only to never receive care.

Mint Juleps Not Served Here- Mr. & Mrs. Mack lost their first son Alvin 3 days after being born; when their son Rabbit was born they vowed to do whatever it took to protect him even commit murder. Miss Langley a rude case worker looking into the family ended up being a victim.

Key To The City- Nora was headed off to school and her family packed up to go with her. When they arrived in the new city her father was supposed to pick them up from the terminal but never came.

The Visitor- Katie arrived in town from school in Memphis. After only being there a few days Katie packs her things to return home. Alice who was married to her father didn’t want Katie in the picture anyway.

Frozen Voices: Jenny had to prove that men needed her and that she didn’t need a man; and Gab had to prove that women needed him, that he didn’t need a woman.

Overall, this was a pretty good collection definitely something I’d recommend. Special thanks to the author & @groveatlantic publishing for my gifted copy‼️

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dnf

i’m not finishing this solely because it fell flat and dragged on. however, i was completely hooked by the first story and its important themes that it projected to everyone. that being said, it’s a me problem. as much as i don’t want to dnf an arc, I had to.

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I really enjoyed this short story collection. I had never heard of Diane Oliver prior to learning of this book and I was heartbroken to learn of her tragic fate. I am really grateful for the preservation of her stories that will allow her voice to live on forever. These short stories told the stories of African American during the 50s and 60s. They kind of explore these peoples lives as they navigate racism, relationships and even mental health. I think that despite these stories being told decades ago they still feel relevent in the present day. I really like the mysticism of some of these stories. They felt kind of eerie as times, but I didn't mind it.

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Thank you to the publisher for my eARC in exchange for an honest review.

This short story collection is beautifully written. It's set in the 60s, but still feels highly relevant in todays' age. More people should read this.

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Stunning writing that sets the tone for African American lives during the 60s.
Short stories that reflects on social integration, interracial dating and racism that are still very relevant today.

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I really enjoyed the short stories in this collection. Oliver has a way of capturing relationships so perfectly and intriguingly.

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These stories feel as urgent and important today as they would have when they were written. This collection is important in telling this part of history.

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BOOK: NEIGHBORS AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR: DIANE OLIVER
PUB DATE: 13 FEB 2024
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REVIEW
Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for this ARC. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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This is the second short stories collection I read this month and I'm on a roll. This collection was very good, set in the mid- late 1900s. There was a lot of racism, Jim Crow laws were in existence then too. So I felt everything. But, my favorite part of this selection was how realistic it was. It was like reading a collection of every day living of black people, mostly women and I liked that. I liked almost every stories here too except Frozen Voices, I didn't even finish it. It's definitely worth your time.
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NEIGHBORS
Okay. Took a long time to get a gist of the book. But, I wanted to see the aftermath of what happened with Tommy and his school
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THE CLOSET ON THE TOP FLOOR
Winifred is the only black person in her college. She has some sort of mental illness like ocd. The book was totally about her mental illness which went untreated.
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BEFORE TWILIGHT
A poignant short story that showed an inkling at the racism black people went through and are still going through. Very realistic
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HEALTH SERVICE
She walked a long distance to see a doctor but the doctor left without seeing much of the patients including her. She's struggling to raise 4 kids on her own after her husband left. My heart broke for her, she was going through a lot
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MINT JULEP NOT SERVED HERE
I think both Mr and Mrs Mack are crazy. I don't understand the reason for their drastic actions and paranoia.
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KEY TO THE CITY
It was okay. I just didn't like the mother's drastic actions. She had a perfect life, she could have stayed.
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THE VISITOR
I liked this,but I didn't like the FMC. She cared too much about appearances and I didn't like the way she acted towards her husband's daughter from another marriage
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BANACO KALT
Millie. 23. Went to Switzerland on an exchange program. I loved reading her mundane experiences in Switzerland. I'm sure it was a huge culture shock for her. V
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WHEN THE APPLES ARE RIPE
Jonnie-boy, a boy with a brother who's leaving home soon. And Mrs Gilkey, a old woman living alone. Probably white. The focus on the story was Jonnie's older brother who was moving away for activism and his father didn't want that.
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TRAFFIC JAM
I don't know why it was named Traffic Jam. But, the book is about a maid, Libby with 5 children and a negligent husband. I only read a day in her life and I got tired alread
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NO BROWN SUGAR IN ANYBODY'S MILK
Funny, but kinda sad too when you reach the ending. I'm glad Essie T was not whom i thought she was
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FROZEN VOICES
My least favorite. I didn't even understand the write up and I didn't finish it. Something about a cheating woman, Jenny who played with the emotions or men
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OUR TRIP TO THE NATURE MUSEUM
A day in the life of Miss Spears, a concerned class teacher of Latonya. A black girl from a poor home. The book described Latonya's difficult situation and Miss Spears thoughts about it.
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SPIDERS CRY WITHOUT TEARS
Follows a white woman, Meg who got into a relationship with a light skinned black man. The ending was actually very sad, but realistic
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Like I said, realistic.

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The stories in this book, written in the 1960s, describe scenarios from the lives of African Americans during attempts at desegregation in the South. The collection is essential reading for understanding today’s remaining inequities in the social determinants of health in the United States. I think these stories should be studied as a historical source. Oliver paints nuanced pictures of Black, white, and biracial characters of that period, and Tayari Jones provides a framework for understanding them in her erudite introduction. It’s truly a privilege to be able to read these stories today, I’m just so thankful that Diane Oliver’s precocious work was discovered before her untimely death, and finally brought together in this collection today.

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Wow, what a treat. This is a collection of short stories written by Diane Oliver before she died at just 22 years old in 1966. These stories explore racial issues in the 50s and 60s in America. A lot of her storied have an eerie feel too them, particularly "Mint Juleps Not Served Here" which was my favorite story in the collection. I love short stories but sometimes have a bit of trouble feeling connected to the characters since they are shorter than a novel, I did not have that issue at all with Oliver's stories. The way she writes her characters make them seem so real, and you really care for them. Another story that was a stand out for me was "Health Service", I just felt so much for this family even though I only saw a tiny glimpse into their day. Some other stories that were 5 stars for me were "Neighbors", "Before Twilight", and "Key To the City". There was only one story I didn't feel invested in which is incredible for a short story collection. Definitely check this one out, a perfect read for Black History Month (but don't forget to read Black books all year)!

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Press for the ARC.

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When I was a lot younger, I could disappear into books; or, alternatively, books could make the world disappear—the root of my love of literature. I had assumed I had lost that ability. Maybe literature has changed (or my tastes have; could it have been a genre thing?), or perhaps the world has changed. That old-fashioned feeling came all the way back while I was reading this collection.

Oliver is a stunningly assured writer. A lot of my marginalia is marvelling at how she is able to write from different points of view—mostly different women, and this is perhaps a (proto?)feminist collection, but also, very memorably, from the perspective of a young Black child viewing an old white woman and neighbour in When the Apples are Ripe. There’s a lot about Black life and the civil rights movement in here, from many perspectives: the small child burdened by the weight of integration in Neighbors; a young woman who disappears because her civil rights-minded father is challenging the system through her in The Closet on the Top Floor. The young adults who stage a sit-in at terrible personal cost (they’re still children, really!) in Before Twilight.

I found the incredibly chilling, spooky Mint Juleps Not Served Here, my favourite story of the collection, delicious, and savoured it for a while. Then there’s the experimental Frozen Voices, which has to be read to be believed; it has the rhythm of spoken-word poetry. The linked stories, Health Service and Traffic Jam pack a ferocious punch together (and are perfectly spaced out in the collection). Another favourite, Banago Kalt, where a young Black woman spends time in Switzerland, away from her civil rights organising, and has time to think about the concept of home. And, finally, the mixed couple of Spiders Cry Without Tears, from a very unexpected angle, that of the white wife.

There is so much that is thoughtful here, so much care. Oliver has a light touch with very heavy issues, but that doesn’t mean she spares the reader. This collection is about the struggles of Black people and the struggles of women, told from the most human perspective—not as sermonizing, but as story.

One of the best collections I have ever read. Oliver is certainly deserving of her place in the Black canon. Thank you to NetGalley and to Grove Atlantic!

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4/5! Going into this collection, I didn't know much about its content. I was surprised to learn that it was written such a long time ago because, despite the events in the book, the writing feels quite modern and is overall easy to read. I enjoyed this collection and think it offers a unique perspective and insight because of when it was written. I honestly think this is a book that everyone should pick up!

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This is a reprint of a 1960s era collection of short stories written by a young author whose career (and life) was cut short due to unfortunate circumstances. Times were challenging and turbulent and the author captured the African American experience when facing school integration, interracial dating, the battle against second-class citizenship, and many of the macro- and microaggressions that marginalized groups and those adjacent to them faced on a daily basis. This is a solid offering steeped in reality and the struggles in humanity.

Thanks to the publisher, Grove Press, and NetGalley for an opportunity to review.

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3.5. I was extremely interested in this story because of learning of the authors short life. I did enjoy these stories but my only gripe was the ending to all of them. It was as if I was caught off immediately when something big was about to happen which was frustrating. IT was frustrating because I wanted something more and I felt that I was teased.

Although this will never happen I wish more stories could be given by this author...

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this ARC! This was such a whirlwind collection of short stories — incredibly sharp, some thrilling, and overall ahead of its time. With this collection being published posthumously, it's saddening knowledge that Oliver passed at such a young age; her writing is genuinely so unforgettable and deserving of a position at the forefront of literary works.

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Finishing this short story collection and realizing Diane Oliver was only 22 when she died was absolutely mind-blowing. So much range, so much deeply human understanding, so much variety, what a shame this much talent left the world so young.

Usually when reading a book of short stories I get the gist at some point and the writing style sort of blends one into the other but here? Each title had me sit up and get excited because they were all so captivating and different.

My favorites were The Closet on the Top Floor, Mint Juleps not Served Here, Banago Kalt, Our Trip to the Nature Museum, and I especially loved Health Service and Traffic Jam. Libby’s character made me crumble. I remember a scene in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi where one of the character’s mother has no access to childcare so she leaves her toddler alone all day while she works and he cries himself to sleep on a mattress on the floor. I felt the same reading about Libby going to work and having to leave her baby on the porch so the lady watching him can bring him in later. I felt the same listening to They were her Property and the way enslaved Black women were expected to work immediately after giving birth. And I felt the same recently seeing the degrading responses to that photo of a young Black woman holding her child on her hip while working behind some fast food counter. Sick and mad.

The Closet on the Top Floor and Mint Juleps not Served Here really stood out for me for their style and just impeccable pace and tone.

Sadly, Frozen Voices was pretty long and just didn’t work for me, hence the 4.5 rating. Otherwise, beautiful collection that I warmly recommend and thank you to Grove for giving me this advance copy.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story collection is that it feels as though it could have been written today. Each story feels as alive and vital as it must have when it was first written. And despite how young Diane Oliver was when she wrote them, the tone is masterfully rendered--giving the reader a sense of deep dread and unease as they read through this collection. While the stories don't all fit together spectacularly well, I am deeply appreciative that they were collected so Diane Oliver can get the respect she deserves from readers. Her talent shines on every page, making the fact that we lost her at a young age all the more tragic.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories as well as the introduction by Tayari Jones, and I applaud the publisher for bringing us this title posthumously.

Diane Oliver had such insight into what it means to be human. She also addressed the issue of race in a truly remarkable way. I especially enjoyed the title story about integration. The characters' emotions ring so true, and the tension keeps us turning the pages.

I also admired other stories in the collection, some more than others, but there is such wisdom here and social commentary combined with, as I mentioned above, insight into human nature. Oliver's characters quickly seem like real people.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance ARC; all opinions in this review are 100% my own.

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