Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 14, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
I definitely don’t venture into the realm of contemporary YA as often as many other genres – I have an incurable “magic brain”, and so stories with some speculative element usually appear to me more. Even so, when I love contemporary books, I love them a lot, because there’s something about them that makes me bubble up with happy feels and sometimes a renewed faith in humanity.
And such are my fuzzy-happy feels about this book. (And its cover. I could look at this cover for hours.)
Parker’s voice is immediately down-to-earth, and she’s a protagonist who can be quickly liked and related to. She acknowledges her own flaws, works towards controlling them, and is a master of genuine awkwardness. I feel like too many heroines are “awkward” in a way that feels contrived because authors are attempting to give them any character flaw they can find, kind of like the “clumsy main character” trend that refuses to disappear from YA literature. (Read: “awkward” is not a character flaw. Everyone is awkward at some point or another.) But Parker’s missteps are realistic, and they don’t define her personality. She shows notable growth as the plot progresses, which was so nice for me to experience. Her journey through her ideals and her passion for something deeper in the links between people really connected to me.
What got me right away was the style – some contemporary novels “dumb down” the narrative because they operate under the misconception that this must be how teenagers talk and think, but Kirby didn’t do that with Parker’s perspective. It makes for a nice balance, smart and readable without being too heavy. Also, it reads pretty quickly, considering that I finished Golden in one sitting.
My one complaint about Parker was her valedictorian aspect. Ostensibly, it’s a fundamental part of her, but she seems way too willing to let it go throughout the book. I felt that Parker’s relationship with her divorced parents could have been deepened, too. And if I were to be really picky, Parker’s crush on Trevor doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. They don’t seem to have anything significant in common and she talks about his looks more than anything. Despite that, they are very cute together, so I was fine with overlooking that – and their relationship does have subtle developments as well. Any shipping that goes on takes a side note to Parker’s personal changes, so I was left feeling glad that the story went beyond romance. (But yes, I could still get behind the ship after a while.) Trevor and the other supporting characters are just that, very supportive. They have interesting dimensions, but nothing too much to detract from Parker, the central figure.
While the mystery is somewhat transparent once one reads up to a certain point, the plot manages to be compelling anyway. Sure, Julianna’s plot isn’t totally original, but the flavor that Kirby gives it keeps the pages turning at a comfortable pace. I always end up defining books by a color in my head, and Golden really is what its title implies, a nice yellow-gold. The ending could have been tied up a little more neatly, but it doesn’t leave anything completely loose. The book as a whole hits home as a testament to the power of coincidence, which makes it great for reading on those glass-half-empty days.
This review might sound a little harsher than the four-star rating might lead you to believe, but please trust me when I say that all these slightly flawed parts come together to be something very nice and fulfilling. The main thing that kept Golden from being a five-star read was the feeling that Kirby tried to do too much in too short a time – but all the same, it’s an underrated, well-written contemporary book. I’ll be adding some of Kirby’s other works to my to-read
monster list to see what she can do with other settings and characters. I’d recommend Golden for fans of Sarah Dessen’s Someone Like You or John Green’s Paper Towns, or anyone who’s feeling shortchanged in this genre.