Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

Well, this was an interesting book. And by interesting, I mean good...but it's a difficult subject matter. I really appreciated, though, that Riggle treats this complex subject matter with the complexity it deserves. And gets so so so many beats right as to how humans interact with each other, the things we tell ourselves, etc.

The Whole Golden World is about three women whose lives intersect because of one illicit relationship. There's Dinah (the mom!), Morgan (the teen daughter), and Rain (the wife of the man, lol). Dinah is a slightly controlling mom who has a lot on her plate including looking after her own business and her three children. Morgan is a senior in high school with her own set of struggles, a physical scar that marks the emotional one she carries. Her boyfriend recently broke up with her and she's facing a future more disappointing than she originally imagined. Which is how she finds herself in a vulnerable state of mind--one that makes a relationship with a teacher possible. Rain is said teacher's wife and carries her own heartache...a longing for a baby.

One of the central questions at the heart of this book is what makes someone a victim? Is Morgan really a victim of Mr. Hill? After all, she's almost 18, considered by many to be an old soul, and gives consent freely to this relationship--even pursuing it. The age of consent in her state is 16, except for student/teacher relationships. She really believes they are in love and completely misses the many signs that this man is course just using her.

As the scandal comes out and unfolds, the reactions are varied. There's a fair bit of victim blaming after all the kids are losing a popular teacher! (this reminded me of Roman Polanski IDEK). People feel free to call Morgan a slut and a whore even though she's clearly the younger party and the one taken advantage of. And Morgan herself refuses for a long time to acknowledge that Mr. Hill was wrong.

I really liked that actually! It kind of reminded me of the movie Trust in that it takes awhile for the girl to realize she's been wronged. As Morgan's mother brilliantly points out, she's a teenage girl who believes fighting for true love is a noble thing. And while I don't want to dismiss that teenage girls are capable of making decisions for themselves, there's a reason these laws exist. The emotional maturity levels are just different. Not to mention that as her teacher, Mr. Hill is abusing a position of authority. Just because someone doesn't seem themselves as having been taken advantage of, doesn't mean they weren't.

Anyway, I think what I liked best about the book is just how right the emotions felt. Morgan clings to the better more romanticized moments of her relationship with Mr. Hill for a long long time. Despite the fact that as a reader, I was immediately, EW GROSS to this guy, Morgan wants to believe he loves her. It's a source of validation and escape from the pain of her life. And this is so often true for all relationships, we hold onto the better moments and let the others go, we choose our own narratives a lot of the time? Like, there's this part where she's all despairing over what's happening and then she remembers the way he swept her up the stairs and goes right back to her delusions. Lol, it felt so familiar.

Also, the reactions of her friends at school...this is like such a small part of the book but it felt so true. They care about her, but they are far too caught up in their own issues to REALLY CARE. And I think that's just how life goes on so much, especially when you're a teenager--it's not about liking someone or caring--it's just that there's so many other things you'd rather focus your attention on. People are selfish, lol.

Anyway, this is a great book, a great read, very compulsive and interesting and thought provoking!

I received an ARC from the publisher, William Morrow.


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