Saturday, December 13, 2014

We Are the Goldens, by Dana Reinhardt

Nell and her older sister Layla have always been inseparable, at least, that is, in Nell's mind.  Going to separate schools, it's been only too easy to explain away any distance between them.  So when Nell starts at City Day as a freshman, she is certain that she and her sister (a junior) will bond tightly.  On her first day, Nell is surprised to learn that Layla has a secret life.  And when Nell learns what the secret is, she is torn between loyalty to Layla and her conviction to do the right thing.  Meanwhile, she's making her own mistakes and torn over her feelings for her best friend Felix.

Written in the heart-aching pleas of an extended letter directly to her older sister, Nell's story early on sets a high expectation of tragedy and heartbreak.  Unfortunately, this particular expedition into pathos didn't gel as well for me as her earlier fraternal take, The Things A Brother Knows.  It hurts that the material is not all that original and that the storyline is cluttered with subplots.  The story felt more like a novella that Reinhardt has stretched out with other stories that were peripheral at best.

Yet, there is no denying the strength and beauty of Reinhardt's writing.  Her ability to drop emotional bombshells with seeming ease makes this a pleasure to read.  And while I very rarely quote from the books I read, I can't help but quote a passage (from page 184) that knocked the wind out of me for its amazing insight into the pain of adolescent transition:

"It's suited Mom and Dad best to think of us as smart and mature young women with good sense who make good choices so that they could wrap themselves up in their own lives and fall asleep a little on the job of being our parents.  All these years, Layla, we've tried to make things easy on them.  We go back and forth, back and forth, smart and mature, building a bridge between two lives and crossing it over and over again.  You know I've always hated being called a baby, but I started to wish it were true.  The baby of whom nothing is asked or expected.

"I wanted to go to them, to tell them, to put them in charge, but I didn't know how.  I was afraid to cause that earthquake."

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