Nell has always thought she and her sister Layla’s lives were intertwined. As a baby, Nell used to refer to herself as Nellayla, as if there was no possibility of one sister without the other.
But as Nell prepares to start her freshman year of high school–the year that should ostensibly be the best year of her life–everything starts to change.
Layla is suddenly distant. She starts lying to their parents and keeping secrets. When Nell finds out Layla’s secret she tries to be an understanding sister. She tries to be what Layla wants her to be.
The problem is Layla’s secret isn’t one that can be kept without consequences. The problem is that if Nell does what she knows is right by telling the truth, Layla might not forgive her in We Are the Goldens (2014) by Dana Reinhardt.
We Are the Goldens is written in the second person as Nell talks to her sister Layla and recounts what is largely a disastrous freshman year for Nell. While Reinhardt offers a well-written and convincing portrait of a family (divorced parents who are still a united front) there is little else in this novel.
While the second person tense makes sense here and is a clever idea, it creates a lot of distance in the story. Readers never get much of a sense of who Nell is partly because her story is so intertwined with Layla’s and partly because she is often narrating a story that is not her own. Layla is similarly problematic as readers see her through Nell’s eyes but not fully as Layla withdraws early on into her own world as it were.
The writing is well-done with Nell often having some very smart, quotable insights. The debate around the central issue (Layla’s secret) is balanced although also often drawn out given the fact that what Layla is doing is so obviously wrong for her and by societal standards.
Nell is a sweet narrator and her friendship with Felix is both enjoyable and satisfying to read. Unfortunately the plot, such as it is, drags quite a bit given the brevity of the novel. The ending of the story also cuts off abruptly with little hint at what the aftermath of Nell’s decision will involve.
Taken more as a character study than anything else, We Are the Goldens is a fascinating book about sisters that will find its audience with readers looking for a quiet read.
Possible Pairings: The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker