Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children's)
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Page Count: 208
Key Words: sisterhood, student-teacher relationship, secrets, drama, tough subject
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Nell has always looked up to her older sister Layla. She even used to call herself Nellaya when she was little, because as far as she was concerned, there was nothing besides an eighteen-month age gap that stood between them. When their parents divorced the year that Nell started kindergarden, the bond she had with Layla intensified even further. She was always the one to lean on. Beautiful. Perfect. Everything that Nell wanted to be. It finally comes time for Nell to join her sister at the high school, and she's excited for all of the possibilities that wait for her: going to upperclassmen parties as a freshman, playing on the soccer team, and generally spending more time with Layla. But then her sister starts to withdraw from Nell and their family. She randomly disappears and is secretive about where she's been, and Layla never keeps secrets from Nell. That's when the rumors about Layla and Mr. B--the ultra-cool art teacher who everyone loves--start. People are seeing them together. Alone. Nell is suddenly faced with the fact that her sister may not be as perfect as she had always thought she was. She also knows that what is happening is very wrong, and there is nothing she can do about it.
**I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on the book. Promise! Quotes in this review may also be reflected differently in the final copy of the book.**
What divides us is clear to the world around us but has always been murky to me.There is something about student-teacher relationships in novel that screams 'Lifetime Movie!' to me, and I am always sucked right in. I love Lifetime movies. So when I came across this on Netgalley, I knew I had to try and get it. The official synopsis of this book, though, ruins the major surprise. This was slightly annoying to me, because we are told right away on the jacket that Nell discovers this secret relationship between her older sister and a teacher. Going into the book knowing this, I had assumed that this reveal would come pretty close to the start of the book and we would work our way through this discovery and it's outcome. Nope. We go through about half the book before Nell reveals for sure that her sister is involved with her teacher. This isn't fully the authors fault, but man. This has officially become a pet peeve: don't reveal the surprise in the summary and then make me wait HALF A BOOK to get to it. Granted, the journey up to that point is a rocky one. Nell narrates We Are the Goldens as a second person address to her sister Layla. We follow Nell through her infatuation with her perfect sister Layla, and the cracks and hints to when she starts seeing Mr. B starts to shine through.
Nellaya. The family joke. One of the only things the four of us can still laugh about together.
But is it funny?
Or do I laugh because that's what you taught me to do?
The syllabus surprised me. We'd be reading books that I knew had things like sex and drugs and bad language, and that was when it first hit me that I was in high school. There would be freedom. There would be choices. There would be blurred boundaries. You know this because you're over halfway done here, but I'm wondering now if it's a mistake, if maybe we shouldn't be expected to find our own way, or put away childish things. Maybe we still need someone to hold our hand.The narration of this novel was one that I don't believe I've ever read in a novel. I mentioned above that Nell narrates the story in second person, with 'you' being her sister, Layla. Second person narration can be really effective, and I've used it before myself in my published short story, but I think there needs to be a real purpose. Unfortunately, I didn't see that purpose here. There were definitely some hiccups in Nell's narration, mostly because some things she states to her sister is stuff that her sister would definitely know, such as the style of her room, or her own mannerisms, or how they view their parents, but it is just put on the page for us readers to get a glimpse at the girl that Nell is talking to. This narration style also cuts our understanding of the story in half. Especially with this complex issue of her sister having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, we never get to see Layla's side. We only see her weird behavior and blissful naiveté through the eyes of Nell, and honestly I would've been more interesting in hearing Layla's side of this story.
See, we aren't your average siblings. Those books don't know that I am me and you are you, and yet, we should be near each other.There are a lot of interesting relationship things happening in this book. Some were brilliant, some left me scratching my head. The main relationship in this book was, of course, Nell and Layla. I thought that the sisterly bond was portrayed very well, even though sometimes I thought that Nell's infatuation with her sister bordered on unhealthy. Despite that, I totally understood the idea of wanting to protect your sister and cover for her, and the unmistakable signs that prove something is 'off' with them. Nell also has her best friend, Felix. I loved him as a character. He was Nell's platonic best friend who could pick up on her moods just as well as Nell could pick up on Layla's. He did have a character development issue, though, where at the beginning of the book he 'shines' for Layla and has an epic crush on her, but almost immediately after that, it is never mentioned again. I really liked that Nell had someone else in her corner outside of her sister, though, and their bond was also strong and almost more enjoyable to read about. Then, there are the Creed brothers. Perhaps the most confusing relationship in this book. The Creed brother's were the Golden's handsome next door neighbors. One died of a potential drug-induced accident, and the other died nine months later. These brothers appear as 'ghosts' and act as an inner-consciousness for Layla as she battles with how to react to her sister's relationship. This was ultra confusing to me because outside of visiting the Creed family's home for Christmas every year, Nell did not seem to have a relationship with these brothers at all. At least not one that was strong enough for her to envision them as ghosts that talk to her and help her out.
And maybe, just maybe, if Mom and Dad hadn't listened to those books and held me back, if I'd started at City Day the year before, a freshman to your sophomore, if I'd been nearer, then none of this ever would have happened.
You stopped and turned to face me, and it gave me a sudden feeling of vertigo, like you might tip forward and I'd tip back and we'd both go tumbling down the hill.One of the biggest things for me in We Are the Goldens was the lack of conflict and consequence. Because of the narration of this story, we read a lot of Nell's internal conflict with her struggle over Layla's relationship, but there is not a whole lot of consequence in this book. Especially for this type of story, where a young girl is in an illegal affair with her teacher, some sort of consequence is practically begged for. SPOILERS AHEAD!!However, we don't get any of that. In stories like this, we want to see a resolution, and the ending of this short novel was so abrupt that it left me grasping for straws to put together the outcome for myself. END OF SPOILERS!
"Nell. Don't you know how great your body is? You have a fantastic body. And you're beautiful. You need to know that."
How'd everything turn so serious? I thought we were joking.
"Look," you said, starting up the hill again more slowly. "I don't want you getting insecure or filled with doubt about yourself. Boys have a way of doing that to girls. Of making them feel like they're not good enough. Maybe it's not even the boys, maybe it's the other girls, I don't know. It's just that...all this messed-up stuff happens in high school and you have to stay out of it, or rise above it somehow."
We Are the Goldens had an enticing story line that definitely delivered in terms of sisterly relationships and internal struggle. Readers really go through the motions with Nell as she discovers her sister's affair, and grapples with how to tackle the situation. Nell also had a really great best friend, and I couldn't help but be hooked in by the drama of this story. However, the second person narrator was distracting to me, because I was reading details that I couldn't help but think that Layla would already know. I was also disappointed by the lack of external conflict and consequence for the characters in this story.
BIG thank you to the publisher for letting me experience this book early!
Are you guys excited for this one? Has it been added to your TBR?