We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt was not a book I specifically sought to preview but I’m glad that the opportunity to do so presented itself. The novel focuses on two sisters whose close relationship is put to the test as younger sister, Nell, joins older sister, Layla, in high school. It shows Nell’s struggle to come to terms with her identity within the sister relationship as well as what to do when faced with a conflict that pits Layla’s desires and sisterly-loyalty against what is best for Layla.
The novel is structured with Nell narrating to Layla. Beginning with their first day of high school, it at first seems that the distance Nell laments is simply one that can naturally occur as siblings outgrow one another and develop interests independent of each other, that it’s simply a symptom of being teenagers. But as the novel progresses, Nell’s reasons for concern become more and more concrete, leaving her torn between actions that might be “the right thing” and her desire not to betray Layla’s trust.
The narrative approach the novel takes is interesting and works… for the most part. While there are moments when Nell reflects on their happier past, there isn’t a lot of that relationship actually on display for the reader to see and that can create a bit of a disconnect, especially since Nell is using “you” to address Layla, a position the reader is directly placed in from the start. It can leave readers frustrated with Nell, even as they’re sympathetic to the position in which she finds herself.
What the novel does best is demonstrate the why of Nell’s struggle. Even as the “right” answer screams at the reader from the beginning, Nell’s reluctance to betray her sister, even for Layla’s own wellbeing, is completely understandable and goes deep. With parents that divorced when they were young, the only constant in their lives was each other; the only person who knew exactly what it was like to deal with the divided home situation was the other sister. Though there are other factors at work influencing Nell’s decisions with regards to Layla’s secret, everything ultimately comes down to that bond between sisters.
The novel’s narrative style probably works best for the young adult readers in its target audience. While adults might find Nell’s prolonged indecision to be over done, drawn out, or melodramatic, I think it is very much in keeping with the way that teens obsessively analyze those kinds of decisions that with age and experience are simply no-brainers. The novel reminds adult readers of the ways teenage priorities and values differ from their own, and provides an excellent example of the kinds of miscommunications that can happen with a split or broken household; Nell acknowledges on multiple occasions the existence of a parental reluctance to see something disagreeable, a desire to believe the lie because it’s more comfortable and easier than trying to get to the messy truth.
I wish there had been more to We Are the Goldens; I completely understand the reason it ended on the note that it did and, from a stylistic perspective, I love it. But as a reader, I wish there had been a little more; an epilogue dealing with the fallout from the decision Nell finally makes. There are other little threads of subplots that, understandably, take a back seat to the main point, but with which I would have liked to have more closure.
Dana Reinhardt’s We Are the Goldens will be available for purchase on May 27, 2014.