Severe TRIGGER WARNING for this book. This book contains sexual trauma, involving minors, and “swinging” among semi-consenting adults. If you are sensitive to things containing trauma or sexual exploitation, please do not read this book or my review.
Immediately we are greeted by the extreme, deep, insecurity within the main character, Kat. Everything she is delivering in her inner dialogue is wrapped in almost scathing insecurity and doubt. She explains people, not by name but by something that strikes her about them. Mentions she married her husband (Doug) because he has the ability to make people feel important, and she needs that. Yikes.
We jump pretty immediately into a conversation about having more children, comments are made about IUDs, and then a neighbor starts gossiping about another neighbor who is supposedly trying to get pregnant again. I have a few issues here. One: what adult person honestly says anything about their chosen form of birth control, around someone they have literally just met? Two: I don’t like the stereotypical trope of “gossipy” gays. I love the inclusion of having a gay couple, and their adorable daughter. I think that is so important. But having one of the men immediately labeled as “such a gossip” to be seems extremely disingenuous. Three: talking about trying to have more babies, especially in front of someone you have just met and do not know yet, is very personal, and honestly insensitive. People struggle with fertility issues. There are hidden heartbreaks hidden within the world of pregnancy, or attempting to get pregnant. Four: what four-month old baby is flirting and picking things up, just to drop them, for you to pick-up? Now, I am not a parent. But I have been around a lot of kiddos. Every child is different, and some babies are more cognizant than others. But Sadie sounds like she’s 6+ months old, not four.
From there we segway into discussing finances. The price of selling a house, and buying a house. At least here, the narrative voice addresses how this is a taboo subject we don’t tend to talk about with strangers.
And right back into sexual conversation. I’ve met a lot of people in my life… and I have never discussed kinks within the first 30 minutes of meeting someone. I am far from a prude, and I believe in being open and honest with people, but yikes. More on this later.
The main character (Kat) immediately goes back into insecurity, attempting to imitate the behavior of another couple, presuming that their (the other couple) dynamic is better and more likable. This lady is already a nightmare.
“… pimping out our newborn.” Holy. Shit. Probably not the best turn-of-phrase to use in any situation. And this is just the first chapter. Buckle up friends…
While I understand the unease of having unexpected guests, especially after just waking up from an unexpected nap and the minor embarrassment of having new people in your unfinished space… but our main character is a tad over-the-top.
“I’ve been around the block, so to speak. I know what chemistry looks like.” How in the ever loving hell are we supposed to unpack THAT? I have no words. Wow. There is NO context to justify or explain the above statement. Just a quick and dirty word plop.
“Sadie’s still sucking on that pacifier, a baby crack pipe, but I can’t worry about that now.” WHAT IS WITH THESE ASSOCIATIONS? A baby crack pipe? Are you kidding me right now? It’s a pacifier…. not a freaking crack pipe. Addiction isn’t funny… it’s not the butt of a joke. I really can’t with this author.
Also… we are hearing about how much Sadie loves eating purées… The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be introduced to foods other than breast milk or infant formula when they are about 6 months old. While babies can be introduced to certain food items between 4 and 6 months old… it seems really premature. There is really so much inconsistency with Sadie… one scene she is sitting up in the sandbox, watching and playing, and the next she can barely control her head… what in the world?
I also don’t understand the reasoning behind not sharing the notes with her husband. If they are causing her such internal stress… it would make more sense to explain and share that with her husband… who would be able to in turn, help figure out the writer. Kat has so many secrets, many of which are very deep, very brutal, and things she needs to workout… but keeping the notes a secret doesn’t make sense. Kat keeps everyone at an arms distance… even when it’s potentially dangerous to other people.
TRIGGER WARNING STARTING AT PAGE 53. If you are sensitive to mention of pedophilia, stop reading this book now.
TRIGGER WARNING STARTING AT PAGE 99.
“But you know how you can get.” Yikes. Nothing like the implication that a woman having concerns regarding her families safety, is overly emotional. Don’t love that.
Shit gets… awkward on page 130. Possible TW.
Swinging. What the actual eff is happening right now? We took a HARD LEFT TURN. Stop the car… I wanna get out. This honestly comes so far out of left field. And I don’t see how this is going to tie in to anything… too each their own, but time and place? Or perhaps some context? It seems to be a habit of Monago’s to just drop things for shock value, and again, I scream IRRESPONSIBLE.
TW ON PAGE 142.
TW ON PAGE 165.
I am all for female empowerment, and women being in control of their sexuality, but I don’t love that the author is equating swinging with feminism. I also don’t like that the main character has obviously sexual trauma in her past, that she has hidden from her husband, and has to “force herself to have sex”, or “seduce him because that is what she had been taught.” This is extremely concerning behavior, and the author is a practicing therapist (which comes across quite obviously in her writing style) so she should know damn well this could trigger the hell out of someone who has suffered sexual trauma in the past. Ellie Monago is being extremely flippant, the way she is writing about and describing sex, swinging, partner sharing, and monogamy. It feel extremely inappropriate to me… as a therapist she (Monago) would most likely have first hand knowledge in how someone who has been sexually abused feels and thinks about themselves, relationships, people and sex. And she is exploiting those feelings in this book. It is disgusting. The fact that Monago writes about Doug (husband character) being able to make Kat (wife/main character/narrater) opt in, when she doesn’t want to makes me sick. Abuse isn’t funny. No means no. CONSENT MATTERS.
I also have to mention, that there are individuals and couples who do live happy, healthy, polyamorous lives. It’s all consensual, it’s not at all predatory, and it works within those dynamics. That lifestyle is not fairly, or accurately depicted within this book.
The twist in this book was relatively predictable. I figured it out before it played out within the pages. There was one portion of the twist I didn’t see coming, but otherwise it was just okay.
The way the book wraps is fairly “and they lived happily ever after”, which is fine. There is no real closure, and no real evidence of healing, though there is the promise it’s in the works. We leave things settled, in a non-committed way, but the ends are all tied in neat little bows. Love it like that.
Overall, this book handles some extremely heavy topics. And there was zero trigger warnings, zero lead-up. And in my opinion, zero conclusion. Kat is dealing with childhood sexual trauma, which has greatly impacted her life, and who she has become as a person. She kept it a secret from her husband, and everyone else, which only makes her situation more difficult. There are honestly not any likable characters within this book.
There is minimal character growth, until the last chapters. There is minimal growth, depth, and likability. I honestly could have enjoyed this book, despite the obviously clinical writing, had the book contained a trigger warning for the content. I just don’t feel like the topic of sexual trauma was handled well, and that as a practicing therapist, who has to have knowledge and insight into how trauma can affect a person, and how to write things in a way that can affect and trigger someone who has gone through trauma, Monago had a responsibility to her readers that her book contained things that would be potentially harmful. As a practicing therapist, Monago had a responsibility to inform and protect any readers who may have suffered from sexual trauma, and for readers who have empathetic tendencies. It is exploitation at its finest.
I also don’t think the whole swinging aspect… was honestly not necessary to the story. Monago could have worked the same concept, and the same “openness” without that. That lifestyle was not shown in any kind of accurate or fair light, and representation matters.
I feel as though this book was written from the perspective of a therapist, and you can tell within the context, who wanted to come across as smart, witty, and controversial. I am disappointed by the utter disregard for people’s well-being within this book. I give this book 2 out of 5 stars, and this book is NOT Katy Approved.
You can find Neighborly by Ellie Monago on Amazon.