Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

The Basics:
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books
Published May 27, 2014
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

It looked a little outside my normal wheelhouse, and I was in the mood for that.


Nell worships her older sister, Layla. They're one unit, intertwined: Nellayla. As Nell and her best friend, Felix, start their freshman year in high school, on Layla's turf, there's so much Nell looks forward to: Joining Layla on the varsity soccer team. Parties. Boys. Adventures.

But the year takes a very different turn.

Layla is changing, withdrawing. She's hiding something, and when Nell discovers what it is, and the consequences it might have, she struggles. She wants to support Layla, to be her confidante, to be the good sister she's always been. But with so much at stake, what secrets should she keep? What lies should she tell?

My thoughts:

We Are the Goldens is an interesting experiment. It's a short YA novel written from the perspective of a younger sister speaking to her older sister. She's trying to explain a choice she's made and not so much asking forgiveness as asking for understanding.

Uncomfortably, the book places the reader in the position of Layla, who is at odds with Nell, the narrator, for what seems to be the first time in their lives. Layla and Nell share the bond of siblings with divorced parents, tighter because of Nell's hero-worship of Layla and because of how young they were when their parents split. Forcing the reader to align with Layla puts us in the position of being in the wrong, as Nell sees it. I felt complicit with her decisions and behaviour, and that was unsettling. Not bad, but unsettling. It was definitely effective for drawing the reader into the tale.

On the plus side, Nell's transition from child to teen is narrated in an honest and open way. All the awkwardness, the yearning, the hope is there. There's a self-awareness when she clings to childish things, a maturity when she considers the rites and rituals of family and friendship and a beautiful expression of sisterhood when she talks directly to Layla, to the reader.  

The bits and bobs that surround the main thrust of the plot - Nell's discovery of the secret Layla's keeping - are all part of the high school experience, I think. Nell's interest in boys, her tentative explorations of sexuality, the ease of friendship with her best friend Felix.... I don't know, there was something a little nostalgic in this for me, as an older (not that old!) reader. Nell's reflections are all a little bit more mature than I would expect someone of her age to be, but perhaps legitimized by all that she's experienced. It's clear that the decision the book is building towards has not been made lightly. 

The book does feel a bit like a lesson for young people - I don't want to spell out how as it would spoil the book. Perhaps a good selection for a high school report or a discussion group of some kind?

Bottom line:

This exploration of sisterhood, love, and the process of growing up is a beautiful, uncomfortable, engaging tale. It raises questions about truth and perspective and I happily recommend it.

4.5 stars
For fans of young adult novels, intimate stories.

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