Published by Wendy Lamb Books on May 27th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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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? Award-winning young adult author Dana Reinhardt explores questions of loyalty, love, and betrayal in this provocative and intimate novel. From the Hardcover edition.
One of the plotlines I really like exploring is a teacher-student romance. Notable favorites include Pretty Little Liars and Drowning Instinct. More often than not, you see those relationships romanticized. How many stories have you heard about the professor marrying his student? How many YA novels featuring this relationship hold it up in a good light. We are the Goldens doesn’t do that.
There is a lot that is unique about Reinhardt’s take on this subject matter, starting with her choice of Nell as the protagonist. A freshman to her older sister, Layla’s junior, Nell is all bright eyes and bushy tails on the eve of starting high school. She is almost obsessively devoted to her sister – they are so close as to be considered the same person. Their lives are intertwined. Don’t misunderstand this though. Nell’s love for her sister does not get in the way of her having her own personality, friends and hobbies. She is excited for her new social life to start, she is creative on the canvas and on the stage, even when playing minor parts, and she has a strong, loving relationship with her best friend, Felix. Nell is also extremely funny.
But I kept it, because you know me, I’m sentimental and superstitious, and also I’m a strong candidate for that reality about hoarding.
How did he think it felt? As Shakespeare might have put it: so hallowed and so gracious… and so totally awesome.
She is a very complicated character, internalizing a lot of what’s going on around her, especially her parents’ divorce that happened in her childhood. Excitement from finally being the same school with Layla, Felix’s father’s cancer diagnosis, maybe her first real boyfriend, and the inability to let go of two brothers who died a few years prior, just months apart – this is all pulling Nell is too many different directions. Until finally, one more secret hits her too hard and she’s about to snap.
Layla is having an affair with their art teacher. Nell goes from loving, devoted sister, to casual acquaintance in a few shorts months, and it’s all because of the illicit relationship that Layla is desperate to hide. Nell is faced with a choice – she can be the sister Layla wants, the sister who covers for her and supports her and is happy for her. Or she can be the sister that Layla needs, there to actually watch out for her, even if it pisses Layla off. It is this struggle that takes center stage throughout the novel and is even more urgent because of the use of second person narration. As the reader, you are right in the middle of the growing rift between the sisters, and there is no way to turn the page fast enough. What will Nell do? Will she confront Mr B? Tell her parents? Out the couple to school officials?
So often in these novels, the narrator goes through great pains to justify this relationship. The teacher (typically a man) is fresh out of college, so he’s not really that much older than the girl. It starts out innocently, just through a shared interest or maybe he’s her adviser. This, in We are the Goldens, the older man, the teacher is shown for what he really is. Nell knows Mr B is in the wrong, that there is an incredible imbalance of power. It breaks her heart to see how he’s changed her sister.
Layla is fragile and young and desperate. Nell is naive and hopeful and slowly learning what the real world is actually like. But she holds onto her self and her optimism. We are the Goldens shows an incredible sensitivity that these types of characters deserve but are hardly ever granted.
This book checks off the “Set in High School” square.