From the BLURB:
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.
Parker Frost (yes, she’s supposedly related to the famous poet) has her future mapped out. Win her school’s Farnetti/Cruz scholarship by getting good grades and being a model student, get in to Stanford, never screw up. This means Parker Frost has never skipped school, handed in an assignment late, snuck out of the house to party with her best friend Kat are told her long-term crush, Trevor, how she really feels.
But then fate brings Parker a journal. A journal written ten years ago by Julianna Farnetti who had a scholarship created in her name, after the tragic accident that killed her and her boyfriend, Shane Cruz. Their high school photos are plastered on a billboard on the outskirts of town, and their horror car crash story is used to put the fear into graduating seniors every year. And it would appear that Julianna was in the same class that Parker currently is a TA for, Mr Kinney’s which requires students write a journal for the last semester before graduation which he then mails back to them in ten years time. Parker finds Julianna’s ten years old journal, and a secret that would amaze her little town.
‘Golden’ is the 2013 young adult book by Jessi Kirby.
I have long been meaning to read a Jessi Kirby book, since her first two ‘Moonglass’ and ‘In Honor’ have come highly recommended. But ‘Golden’ really appealed to me for the mystery interwoven with a YA coming-of-age. Plus, it’s received some stellar reviews. So I gave ‘Golden’ a go and while I didn’t love it (and actually had a few issues with it) I did like it. It was okay. I might try another Kirby book, but hope for better results.
My main issue with the book was that it all felt very thin and insubstantial. And I think the main reason for that is Julianna’s discovered journal and the mystery attached overshadows the coming-of-age elements. Don’t get me wrong – the discovery of a ten years old journal written by one half of a ‘golden’ high school couple who died tragically when Parker was seven-years-old (she can still remember the candlelight vigil held in their honour, and a scholarship has been made to honour them not to mention a massive billboard remembering them) is really interesting. And it’s a gutsy move for Kirby to decide to write about his mystery ten years down the track, and from the perspective of an outsider who discovers this girl’s journal written in the weeks leading up to her untimely death. But for Kirby to justify writing this book from Parker’s perspective and not Julianna’s, she really had to work better on rounding out Parker’s story for me.
For one thing, the people in Parker’s life never felt fully-formed for me. Her best friend Kat is a party girl and natural flirt who boys appear to fall all over themselves for. But she’s also insecure as Parker inches closer to a scholarship and departure for Stanford. For me, there was a lot more working under Kat’s surface but Kirby and Parker never really see her beyond being Parker’s fun-loving friend who is going to miss her bestie when she leaves for college. I wanted to know why she would be staying in this small town instead of trying to break away. I wanted to know what she thought her limits were that that wouldn’t happen. She was only as formed as she needed to be to provide a minor conflict for Parker and that was frustrating.
Then there’s Trevor, a high school Casanova and Parker’s crush since year seven. Much is made of the fact that Trevor has been with just about every girl in school except Parker, who he still tries to woo into the art supply closet. But Parker, good girl she is, has resisted his charms while quietly bemoaning all the girls he’s taken an interest in who aren’t her. I think Kirby tried to make Trevor well-rounded beyond just ‘that cute Lothario’ but she missed the mark for me. He comes out with some pretty pithy and seemingly sincere lines for Parker, but I really wanted her to put the pressure on him and get him talking about why he’s seemingly been with every girl in school and if he’d still be interested in Parker if she hadn’t played hard-to-get. And just to show that I never entirely trusted Trevor, despite Kirby’s attempts to turn him around, I kept waiting for Parker to reach a revelation about Kat and Trevor. She starts out with some jealous doubts when she sees the two of them laughing together in the halls, but she quickly dispels any notions that the two of them could have anything romantic. Except I kept waiting for it. Kirby built Trevor up as a Casanova and Kat as a natural flirt – so I kept waiting for Kat to reveal a hook-up with her best friend’s crush (maybe in retaliation for moving on to bigger and better things without her?) and the fact that there was no real obstacle for Trevor/Parker (minus Parker’s own hang-ups) just didn’t sit right for me.
There’s also a huge missed opportunity for Kirby with Parker’s parents. Her mum starts touching on some tough truths eventually, about how she became pregnant with Parker at a young age and subsequently married her father when that wasn’t really what she wanted . . . the two of them are now divorced and her father (a struggling poet) lives in New York but her mother still feels the barbs of him. I liked when Kirby bought up the mother’s failed dreams as a reasons she puts so much pressure on Parker, but this was left hanging by the end. And the father being away in New York and never interacting with his daughter also felt messy.
But perhaps the biggest thing that didn’t work for me was Julianna’s diary. This girl recounts huge chunks of dialogue (complete with ‘I said’ and ‘he said’) and entire scenes from memory with longing glances and words left unsaid also included. These excerpts did not read epistolary to me, and were quite jarring. And when Julianna’s story interlinks with that of the local hottie who runs the cafe in town, I was eye-rolling quite a bit.
Life is made of moments and choices. Not all of them matter, or have any lasting impact. Skipping class in favor of a taste of freedom, picking a prom dress because of the way it transforms you into a princess in the mirror. Even the nights you steal away from an open window, tiptoe silent to the end of the driveway, where darkened headlights and the pull of something unknown beckon. These are all small choices, really. Insignificant as soon as they’re made. Innocent. But then. Then there’s a different kind of moment. One when things are irrevocably changed by a choice we make. A moment we will play endlessly in our minds on lonely nights and empty days. One we’ll search repeatedly for some indication that what we chose was right, some small sign that tells us the truth isn’t nearly as awful as it feels. Or as awful as anyone would think if they knew.
So we explain it to ourselves, justify it enough to sleep. And then we bury it deep, so deep we can almost pretend it never happened. But as much as we wish it were different, the truth is, our worlds are sometimes balanced on choices we make and the secrets we keep.
Having said all that, some stuff I did like. I like Kirby’s writing – she nails inner turmoil and coming-of-age without melodrama. And I liked Parker, and could relate to this slightly nerdy over-achiever who gets to the end of her high school life with not a whole lot of fun to show for it. I liked the atmosphere Kirby wrote around Julianna and Shane’s death, and how it’s gone down in small-town folk lore and urban legend. But a lot more didn’t work for me, and I think that mostly came from the imbalance of mystery with coming-of-age and the secondary characters and deeper stories that fell by the wayside for that small-town mystery to work.