This morning, I finished a book that, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable. The book is We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. (I was lucky enough to read a digital ARC via NetGalley.) I say “uncomfortable” because this book takes a look at romantic relationships between teachers and students (EWWW!) and the toll a secret like that can take on someone.
As most of you know, I am an educator, so this topic is particularly unsettling. Personally, I find the very idea of romantic relationships between students and teachers to be nausea-inducing, but I have known others who felt differently. I’ve worked with some educators who were caught in compromising positions with students. (Most of them are no longer teaching. Sadly, a few escaped those circumstances relatively unscathed.) This is not a situation I’ve ever understood the appeal of, especially from a teacher’s standpoint. We Are the Goldens examines this odd relationship, but it shows readers how a family member of the student may react to what she discovers.
We Are the Goldens is written as a letter (of sorts) from a younger sister to the older sister she idolizes. The reader becomes, for all intents and purposes, the elder sister, and that allows a glimpse into the sibling dynamic that we often don’t see.
Nell Golden is a freshman at City Day School in San Francisco, and she has this fairy tale image of what high school will be like. She’ll follow in her perfect sister’s footsteps, and everything will be awesome. Her sister, Layla, however, seems to be pulling away from what was once a really close relationship with Nell. At first, Nell isn’t sure what’s going on with Layla, but rumors are swirling about her older sister, and eventually, those rumors make their way to Nell’s disbelieving ears.
There have always been stories about Mr. Barr, the popular, young, good-looking art teacher. Every year, it seems that he’s supposedly hooking up with one of his students, but nothing has ever come of the rumors. This year, though, the stories focus on Mr. Barr and Layla. One person sees them at an art gallery. Another sees them exiting a hotel together. When Nell’s best friend, Felix, tells her what’s being said about Layla, Nell is at once furious and defensive. Her sister’s smarter than that, right? There must be some reasonable explanation.
When Nell confronts Layla with the gossip, Layla does have a plausible reason for being seen with Mr. Barr…but Nell remains suspicious, especially considering that her sister is withdrawing from her friends, her family, and is becoming more evasive by the day. One night, Nell walks in on her sister video-chatting with Mr. Barr, and she realizes that the rumors about her beloved sister are all too true. What is Nell supposed to do now?
Layla swears Nell to secrecy and confesses that she’s in love with Mr. Barr. She knows no one will understand their relationship, so Nell can’t tell anyone, especially not their parents. Nell struggles with this. She knows Layla’s relationship with Mr. Barr is wrong, but how can she turn on the one person she loves most in the world? Nell agrees to keep Layla’s secret, but it’s growing increasingly difficult to maintain her cool over this situation.
Nell has her own life to worry about as well. Being on the soccer team and in the school play. A crush on a popular guy who her sister warned her away from. Worries with becoming a target of the rumor mill herself. Nell’s best friend is also going through some tough stuff, and she wants to be there for him. Keeping Layla’s secret on top of everything else is wearing on Nell, and she’s about to break.
Read We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt to learn how one girl struggles with being loyal to the person she loves most while doing what she knows is right.
While part of this book focuses on the relationship between a teacher and a student, a larger part centers on the relationship between sisters. Sisters keep secrets–from their parents, from friends, from other family members or authority figures. At what point, though, should secrets be revealed? In We Are the Goldens, Nell wrestles with that. Where should loyalty end? Nell wants to keep her sister–and everyone else around her–happy, but what is the cost? Eventually, Nell comes to terms with what she must do, no matter how it might damage her relationship with her sister.
Now, I am an older sister, and I know that my little sister would tell in a skinny minute if I were doing something wrong or potentially harmful. I would do the same for her. This book, then, made me examine would I would have done if I’d been put in a similar position. (If you’re curious, I would have told someone immediately. Of course, I’m a tattle-tale from way back.) I think any reader who has siblings will be able to relate, at least a little bit, to the characters in We Are the Goldens. Maybe it’s a younger sibling worried about the choices an older brother or sister is making. Maybe it’s an older sibling looking out for little brothers or sisters. Either way, I think this book will resonate with anyone who has ever kept a secret for a sibling.
We Are the Goldens is a quick, intriguing book that definitely has a place in most YA collections. Even though I found some of the plot-line kind of icky, I was curious to see how things would play out for Nell and Layla. And even though the end of the book didn’t provide a ton of closure, I was totally satisfied with it. The author left things for the readers to imagine for themselves.
If you’d like to add We Are the Goldens to your personal, school, or public library collections, it will be released to the masses on May 27th. For more information on this book and others by Dana Reinhardt, check out her website and Twitter page.