Sunday, September 8, 2013

Golden by Jessi Kirby

"None of them look at me, but I'm nervous all of a sudden because right now it feels like I'm holding in my hands something I shouldn't be. Like I've just brushed my fingers over a ghost. And by all accounts and definitions, I have."

Seventeen year old Parker Frost hopefully has her ticket out of Summit Lakes with her placement as a finalist in the Cruz-Farnetti Scholarship. Her dream of attending premed at Stanford is now that much closer. All she has to do now, is write a winning speech and the scholarship will be hers.

Parker is a TA for Mr. Kinney's freshman English class. One of her final chores is to take the journals written by students ten years earlier and mail them out to them. Every year Kinney gives his students a journal after spring break and the task of writing in for the remainder of the school year. On the board at school, Mr. Kinney writes a quote from a Mary Oliver poem, "Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"  Students then spend the last few weeks of their senior year answering this question in the journal Kinney has given them. On graduation day, student hand in their sealed journals and ten years later they are mailed back to the students using their updated addresses from the school's alumni database.

As Parker is locating addresses to mail out the diaries, she comes across the sealed journal of Julianna Franetti. Julianna and her boyfriend, Shane Cruz were the town's golden couple destined for a golden life, together forever. They had been together for four years and it was expected they would marry and stay in Summit Lakes to be a part of Shane's family's business.

But a freak storm and a terrible accident changed that forever. First responders never found their bodies in Shane's jeep half-submerged in the river at the bottom of the gorge. The official statement was that their bodies were swept downriver and into Summit Lake. The golden couple are immortalized on the town's bulletin board; their portraits a reminder of what was lost.

Julianna's journal was written before her accident and Parker, in a moment of weakness, descides to take the journal home. Parker wonders why no one thought to ask about Julianna's journal and why Mr. Kinney never read it. At first Parker doesn't think she will read it but then changes her mind. Partly she does this because her best friend Kat has been encouraging Parker to take a chance in life, to try the road less traveled; to "do something unexpected that would leave me with something I could keep and remember. An experience instead of a goal." Parker also decides to read the journal because she wants to know the real Julianna, "who she was and what she wanted".

However, the journal reveals that all was not entirely golden in the life of Julianna, that she was struggling with the choices she had made and was filled with self-doubt. The revelations of the journal lead Parker to try to discover what happened that fateful night. When Parker makes several astonishing discoveries about Julianna's life, she decides to take a chance in the hopes of solving a mystery and giving love a second chance. And through her journey investigating they mystery of  the deaths of Julianna and Shane, Parker finds the courage to apply the lessons she learns to her own life.

I enjoyed this book because it combined mystery and romance. Jessi Kirby has crafted a brilliant novel that uses a unique storyline to explore themes of identity, forgiveness and redemption, love, and the importance of being true to oneself. These are things that young people find very relevant in their lives. The hook, the discovery of the forgotten journal of crash victim, Julianna Franetti is perfect for drawing readers into this well paced novel. Although the storyline is predictable, there are twists along the way that make it interesting. Not only is the story of Parker's attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery of Julianna and Shane riveting but so is her journey of self-discovery.

Parker Frost, who is related to the famous poet, Robert Frost, identifies with Julianna Franetti's struggle to find meaning hin her life. Julianna's life was mostly planned out for her by the choices she made. Like Julianna, Parker realizes that her life is all but planned out for her but not by her choices, instead by her mother whose life is focused on practicality and stability. But Parker is like her poet father and his relative Robert Frost - she has a need to find meaning in life, to be creative, to express herself. Like Julianna, she wants a life that's more expansive and more open to chance and change, something Parker begins to understand is a part of life.

The major characters in the novel are well developed and unique. Parker is a likable heroine, intelligent, caring and romantic. She believes in love, despite her parents divorce. Her best friend Kat, is confident, flirty, and very self aware. Kat's favourite motto is carpe diem ("seize the day") and she's the driving force behind getting Parker to seize her life and make it her own. Trevor Collins, the boy Parker is crushing on but too afraid to acknowledge her feelings for, is both humorous and sweet. At first it seems like he might be superficial, but it soon becomes evident that he truly cares for Parker.

I truly enjoyed how Kirby made the main character, Parker Frost, a distant relative of famous poet, Robert Frost. This allowed her to incorporate many quotations from Frost's wonderful poems into her novel, adding to the overall beauty of the storytelling. The novel's title, Golden, is also a reference to Frost's poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Julianna and Shane are the "golden" couple, perfect in love with the perfect life awaiting them. But it didn't happen. Because in life, nothing is assured and nothing lasts forever. Change is part of life and that is expressed in Frost's poem:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

Each chapter has a short quote from one of Frost's poems, that are relevant to what will happen in the chapter. Readers may be familiar with some of the quotes, especially those from Robert Frost's Fire and Ice and also his well known poem, The Road Not Taken. It is truly wonderful, the interweaving of many of the ideas about life, Frost expressed in his poetry with the novels overarching themes of choices made in life, of love and meaning.

Golden is by far the best young adult novel I have read this year. Well written, well paced, with a great storyline, I especially recommend this novel for book clubs, book talks and just for a great read overall! The lovely book jacket has gold detailing which entices the reader to pick up this very good novel. Not to be missed!

Maybe we'll get to see what happens to Parker in ten years time??

Book Details:
Golden by Jessi Kirby
Toronto: Simon & Schuster BFYR    2013
277 pp.

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