Saturday, June 14, 2014
Having closed one overly hyped book earlier in the week with a deep sense of disappointment, even despair, I opened Dana's this morning with a few nerves. I needed this book to be good. I needed to be restored. I needed to shut down all the voices in my head that were saying, Quality no longer counts.
I wanted to be able to write right here that I'd encountered a book lovely and right.
I'm writing that here. Lovely. Right.
We are the Goldens is the story of two sisters living intertwined lives. Two teens trusted by their divorced parents to make smart decisions. Two girls who always turn to each other first. But now one has a terrible secret and the other is being locked out. Nell presses. Layla retreats. Nell gets into some trouble of her own. Maybe parental supervision is necessary after all. Maybe teens don't in fact know everything, could use a little help when life gets messy.
We are in San Francisco, and the city is beautifully drawn. We are inside a family where love lives, but some messages get bungled. Nell has a best friend named Felix. Layla has a lover she can't name. There is a private school that is full of privileges and projects—art, a play—that are typical teen fare, and teen danger.
We see all this because Dana takes the time to show us. To build the family. To establish a reliable voice (Nell's, who speaks over all 199 pages, directly to Layla). To fully establish scenes. To not assume that brand names tell the reader everything, or that characters are adjectives, or that clever is the only form of conversation. Teens live complex lives. Their communities are entangled. There's more at stake than high school gossip. Adults (I repeat myself) can make a difference.
It's all here, in this slender novel. And so is Dana's immaculate voice. Clear. Consistent. Ever intensifying as the story unfolds.
I leave you with this example:
I feel bad that Mom hasn't remarried. She wants to, and I know that the reason she hasn't has something to do with us. It's not like we've tried to sabotage any of her relationships; it's just that even though we spend three out of every seven days with Dad, we take up a lot of space. Mom is tirelessly devoted to us. We are her north, her south, her east, her west, to quote that W.H. Auden poem. I know it's about a death, but to Mom we're her compass, even if sometimes that's not how it feels.