Recently young adult (YA) novels have captured the interest of quite a bit of the reading public, although there are some skeptics who can’t quite fathom the attraction of these books to readers who are not young adults. In reality, YA fiction is not a new occurrence. Many of the classics that one was “forced” to read as part of the literature curriculum are classified as YA novels: Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example. In the past twenty years, the Harry Potter novels, the Twilight Saga, and The Hunger Games trilogy have widened the audience and while those books are science fiction/fantasy, other writers like Sarah Dessen, Sarah Ockler, and now, in my opinion, Jessi Kirby are creating YA literature that really is practically an equivalent of literary fiction, with beautiful, thoughtful prose and complex topics.
In Golden by Jessi Kirby, Parker Frost is a 17-year old who has always played by the rules. She’s studied hard, never skipped school, and, as the novel opens, she has an acceptance letter from Stanford in her possession. Now all that she has to do is get the Cruz-Farnetti scholarship, named after two golden teenagers who died tragically a decade earlier.
As part of her job as TA to her favorite English teacher, Parker must mail journals to the students who had taken the writing course ten years earlier. The quote to inspire the journals was Mary Oliver’s, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
One of the journals Parker comes across belongs to Julianna Farnetti, the teenager who died and for whom the scholarship is named. Breaking her pattern of always doing the right thing, Parker reads the journal and discovers that Julianna’s golden life may not have been what it seemed. Parker’s reaction to the journal sets about a chain of events that makes her question her staid existence, her living her mother’s ambitions rather than her own, and Trevor Collins, the boy she’s liked since seventh grade but never allowed into her life.
Parker also contemplates the Oliver quote: what is she doing with her wild and precious life?
Jessi Kirby’s prose is a pleasure to read. She takes her time telling the story and developing the characters so that none are stereotypes or clichés and you care about what happens to them. The story itself is well plotted and told. There isn’t a “sure thing” here. There are no black and white happy endings. It’s realistic in that it conveys life’s messiness and uncertainty.
And, while the young adult years are accepted as those in which one tries to determine what one is doing with one’s life, the question is always there: are you making the best of your one wild and precious life?
I highly recommend Golden by Jessi Kirby as well as the novel she wrote just before this one, In Honor, about a girl who learns that her brother has died in Iraq and that he has one last request.
From Amazon: Golden