Sunday, May 25, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (ARC Review)

Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Publication.Date:May 27, 2014
Pages:208 (ARC Kindle)
Published By:  Wendy Lamb Books
Website:Dana Reinhardt 

We Are the Goldens on Goodreads
My review copy:
Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.

When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They're a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell's a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she's happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it's wrong, and she must do something about it. (Goodreads)

Quotes are from an ARC copy and are subject to change
I'll probably always remember where I was and what I wore and all that; it was that kind of moment.

I could no longer pretend.

Something was happening.

Something that shouldn't be.

And I had absolutely no idea what to do.
Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Life is good. Life is great. You're on your way to a party with the boy you adore, who just kissed you on the lips. Don't think about Angel and the spots. Don't think about Layla and what she's doing. Life is good. You are with your best friend. On your way to a party. Don't think about it. Don't think about it.
I think we fall back into our patterns when we don't know what else to do. So as you went back to Layla, the girl with the world on a string, I went back to playing Nell, adoring sister, keeper of the peace.

The sister who lies for you.
Layla, you know I'd happily lie for you to save your life, or to fix your life, but it's a different story entirely to lie about something that I believe is ruining your life.

Layla and Nell are sister's that have always been inseparable and are best friends. While only 18 months apart, their parents held Nell back a year in effort to give the girls space to find themselves - at least this is Nell's theory as her parents said she "just wasn't ready." We Are the Goldens begins with Nell's freshman year and Layla's junior year at City Day. The story is told to us as if we are Layla. Nell is recounting the events of the past few months, explaining to Layla/the reader why she needs to tell Layla's biggest and deepest secret: she is in a relationship with her teacher.

I really enjoy Nell's voice in the story - even from the first two lines ("There's something I need to tell you. Don't be mad") her voice is strong, clear, and realistic. She is not overly mature for a high school freshman, but nor is she immature and whiny. Nell is attempting to navigate her first year of high school without the help of Layla who is slowly drifting away from her family and friends. While Nell does have her best friend, Felix, she is longing for the advice that can only come from her older sister.

Aside from having an affair with her teacher, Layla comes across as your typical high school girl experiencing her first romance. She spends her free moments (secretly) talking to him, he's her end all be all, they're going to be together forever, and she would rather spend time with him than her family.

While I found the story to be completely enjoyable, there are certain facets of the plot that I cannot agree to. I am a high school teacher, my fiance is a high school teacher, and I know how these things work. Mr. Barr (the teacher in question) has rumors spread about him every year that he is in a relationship with a student. Every. Year. Apparently they always turn out to be just that, rumors, but let's be real here. If a male teacher is rumored to have any sort of relationship with a student, the school board and police will be on that like white on rice. And for it to happen every year? No. The school board would without a doubt do something about that. Also, there is another scene where Nell goes to transfer out of Mr. Barr's class and has the following interaction with the woman in the registrar office:
"I don't think I've ever had a student drop one of Mr. Barr's classes. Usually they fight tooth and nail to get in."

I shrugged. "I like music."

"Who doesn't? But Mr. B. could be teaching chemistry. Or Latin. Kids would still line up to take his classes." She winked at me. "Especially the girls."
The fuck?! No. No way in Hell. Not if this woman wants to keep her job. Not if this woman isn't a creep herself. You do not say that to a student in the school. There's a line and it's been crossed. Another student refers to the rumors as an "occupational hazard." This is not an "occupational hazard" of being a teacher. Being under appreciated is an occupational hazard. Taking work home is an occupational hazard. Losing your voice from talking for eight hours straight is an occupational hazard. Having rumors spread about you that your sleeping with a student is not an occupational hazard! *takes a deep breath*

Aside from my huge issue with this, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If Mr. Barr hadn't had the reputation that he did, and is reputation wasn't treated in the manner it was, I would have rated this book a five. The relationship between the two sisters is obviously something both girls cherish and it's a shame to see it crumble under this secret. You know that Nell is torn between lying for or betraying the person she loves most. Their parents were present and involved, which is an amazing change from most YA novels with absentee parents.

I imagine most readers will not be thrilled with the ending, but honestly, I absolutely loved it. Semi-Spoiler: It's an ambiguous ending and is left open to your imagination. We Are the Goldens is fascinating novel that delves into the relationship of two sisters, woes of high school, friendship/romance, and leaves you both hungering for more but completely content. (Yes, I know those are completely different emotions, but that's exactly how I felt in the end and it worked.)

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