East of Troost

A Novel

Fiction - Literary
328 Pages
Reviewed on 08/16/2022
Buy on Amazon

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Free Book Program, which is open to all readers and is completely free. The author will provide you with a free copy of their book in exchange for an honest review. You and the author will discuss what sites you will post your review to and what kind of copy of the book you would like to receive (eBook, PDF, Word, paperback, etc.). To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Review Exchange Program, which is open to all authors and is completely free. Simply put, you agree to provide an honest review an author's book in exchange for the author doing the same for you. What sites your reviews are posted on (B&N, Amazon, etc.) and whether you send digital (eBook, PDF, Word, etc.) or hard copies of your books to each other for review is up to you. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email, and be sure to describe your book or include a link to your Readers' Favorite review page or Amazon page.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Donation Program, which was created to help nonprofit and charitable organizations (schools, libraries, convalescent homes, soldier donation programs, etc.) by providing them with free books and to help authors garner more exposure for their work. This author is willing to donate free copies of their book in exchange for reviews (if circumstances allow) and the knowledge that their book is being read and enjoyed. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email. Be sure to tell the author who you are, what organization you are with, how many books you need, how they will be used, and the number of reviews, if any, you would be able to provide.

Author Biography

Ellen Barker grew up in Kansas City and had a front-row seat to the demographic shifts, the hope, and the turmoil of the civil rights era of the 1960s. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Washington University in Saint Louis, where she developed a passion for how cities work, and don’t. She began her career as an urban planner in Saint Louis and then spent many years working for large consulting firms specializing in urban infrastructure, first as a tech writer-editor and later managing large data systems. She now lives in Northern California with her husband and their dog Boris, who is the inspiration for the German Shepherd in this book. This is Ellen’s first novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

East of Troost: A Novel by Ellen Barker is a gentle yet strangely poignant journey through the structure of American society and the racism that seems deeply ingrained in institutions that regulate the cities we live in. When a successful, middle-class, middle-aged white woman’s life begins to fall apart, she looks back to her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, and wonders if she can reconnect with the past. As a child, during the 60s, she lived east of Troost before her parents, along with most of the families in the region at the time, joined the “white flight” to the more up-market and safer areas of Kansas City, west of Troost. After having spent most of their life savings on medical care for her ill husband, and the freak burning down of their house, following her husband’s death, she is grieving, confused, and lost, as well as realizing she can no longer afford to buy a new house in California even with the insurance money. As a telecommuter, she is aware she can live and work anywhere she has an internet connection, so once she decided to purchase the house she grew up in, in Kansas City, she headed across the country to re-establish her life. East of Troost has changed dramatically in the intervening years, with an expressway cutting through the area, high crime, and many houses neglected and in the hands of uncaring renters. As a white, middle-aged woman, with just her German shepherd, Boris, for company, can she fit in and what will her predominately African-American neighbors think of her moving back here after all these years?

East of Troost is a gentle but powerful reminder of the fractured and often unfairly structured nature of American society. In her debut novel, Ellen Barker used her childhood reminiscences to create a fascinating scenario that many of us would never have considered. The idea of returning to the house where you grew up, to a neighborhood that has changed so drastically in the intervening years, was pure genius. As a child of the 60s and one imbued with the social justice of Catholic nuns, she was able to envisage and empathize with those living in a deprived neighborhood, and yet one could feel the palpable fear she encountered in certain circumstances on her journey, especially when her house was broken into not long after she arrived. Her willingness to smile at neighbors, to talk to them, and the friendliness of her beloved dog, Boris, did allow her to connect with people at least on a surface level and this was a powerful reminder that we human beings are all ultimately the same with similar desires, aspirations, and dreams -- yet some are stymied in these quests merely by an accident of birth that determined their skin color and their residence of birth. For me, the most powerful statement of structural racism came with the incident late in the book at the mobile phone store. The entire scenario just left me shaking my head in sadness and glad that I don’t live in an American city. This is a kindly, well-structured read and although it’s a bit of a slow-burner, there is much to be gleaned from this author’s story. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and can highly recommend it.

Rabia Tanveer

East of Troost: A Novel by Ellen Barker is the story of a woman rebuilding her life in the place she left behind. After her house in California burned down, our protagonist packed her meager belongings and her dog Boris and moved back into her childhood home in East of Troost. Going back was easy, but settling in was the hardest thing she ever did. As she made her house habitable, she realizes that setting back into the community she left behind was easier than she thought. As she rebuilds her life and forms new connections, she faces challenges unlike any other she'd ever encountered.

The author’s narrative style reminded me of Toni Morrison. I have an undying love for Morrison, so every time I find an author who has even a small inkling of her style instantly becomes a favorite. Even though the protagonist was middle-aged, I would confidently categorize this novel as a coming-of-age story or women’s fiction. The protagonist was complex, she tried too hard, and, at times, she was overwhelmed by her circumstances. However, she powered through it all and formed a new family among the residents of Troost.

The story reminded me of Sula by Toni Morrison; the community and the interconnected neighbors were the most prominent themes in both stories. The dialogues were fresh, the story was interesting, and the descriptions were fantastic. The pace was perfect, and there was never a dull moment. The momentum suited the story exceptionally well. Ellen Barker wrote an emotive tale with a fascinating protagonist and a powerful message. I loved it and enjoyed it immensely.