Recommended for ages 14+
Nell and Layla have always been close. Nell grew up in her older sister’s shadow, even believing her name was, at one point, “Nellayla”. Now that Nell is a freshman at the same progressive high school that Layla attends as a junior, she figures it will be perfect. They’ll be together all the time, as close as ever. Until she discovers that Layla has a secret.
The story follows Nell through her freshman year in high school, burdened with Layla’s secret, which, at first she guesses, and ultimately, Layla confirms; we read her struggle to keep Layla’s secret while keeping Layla safe from what she knows will be a bad situation in any outcome. And through this, Nell also has her own struggles – namely, a crush gone wrong and a best friend that she can only confide so much in. Their divorced parents never seem to have quite enough time to actually talk to the girls and Nell feels very much alone while Layla spirals into her giddy, starry-eyed, teenage love affair.
The book is a quick read, told in the first person through Nell’s eyes, in the form of what feels like a very long letter to Layla or perhaps a journal that Nell uses to get her feelings out. Some flashbacks give depth to the characters, but the main points are right there in the present time: Layla is the Golden Girl. Nell is her sister, still Golden, but in the shadow of Layla’s greatness. As much as Nell’s concerns for her sister are legitimate, they’re also born from the sadness at seeing Layla go somewhere in life without Nell. It’s a separation, a painful one, made even more painful to Nell because she knows how this will likely end. It’s a tough coming of age story for both sisters.
Made more interesting is the addition of two dead brothers, the Creed brothers, who Nell imagines as a kind of Greek chorus. She bounces her feelings off of them, and they speak to the situations at hand, either nudging her into action or deeper thinking. We only get a slight bit of their back story, and I’d have liked to have known a little more about Nell’s relationship to them, because they factor so strongly in her narrative.
We Are the Goldens is a good summer read for teens and provides a lot of fodder for booktalks and discussion groups. The book hits shelves on May 27th.