I’ve been in something of a young adult drought. I go through phases; monsoon for a few months, drought for a few more. A couple of months ago I checked out at least ten books from the YA section, and couldn’t get interested in a single one. So I moved on to more age-appropriate stuff (I’m in my mid-thirties), and haven’t looked back.
So, I would not have read this book had I not gotten an invitation from NetGalley. And while I doubt I’ll be jumping back into YA as a rule, We Are the Goldens was a good reason to make an exception.
I have a sister, but we’re over five years apart. Five years is a really long time. I went to college while she was still in middle school. I had graduated to the real world when she was still in high school. There was never an opportunity for us to have much in common after I turned ten. I always thought once we were both married we’d grow closer, but it’s been the opposite, and it makes me sad.
The “Nellaya” concept in the jacket blurb caught my attention. The idea that two sisters were so close as to sometimes become one person appeals to me. And the way a relationship like that is always destined to change; nothing lasts forever. For Nell, the change was disturbing, but not in the way you’d think. I don’t think it was the change so much as the reason.
We all know people who seem perfect, who seem to have it all. But things are rarely what they seem. Although Nell and Layla’s school as experienced a stark example of how deceiving appearances can be, the lesson is soon forgotten or ignored altogether. It’s easier to keep to the surface. Layla seems perfect, yet she has a profound lack of maturity that leads to a terrible choice. Nell, on the other hand, has always been seen as and seen herself as “less than”, but the truth is she is the more admirable one. Only her best friend, Felix, sees that truth, and by the end of the book she is beginning to see herself as she really is. She has an amazing strength and maturity, which leads her to make the best choice, even though it is the most difficult and painful.
I would love it if We Are the Goldens reached the same status as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson in being taught in some high schools. So often young people fal to speak up for fear of how they will be perceived. A large part of a teen’s identity is made up of how they think they are seen by their peers. These books show how, although difficult and fraught with social dangers, speaking up is usually the right thing to do. I’d also recommend it to parents of teens. Nell and Layla’s parents are a lesson in how not to parent. But it’s not all bad, since Felix’s parents do all the right things.