Nell Golden and her sister Layla have always been close. So close, in fact, that when they were little, Nell thought they shared the name Nellayla. But now that they’re in high school, Layla in her junior year and Nell just starting her freshman year, they’ve begun to drift apart. Or, more accurately, Layla has begun to push Nell away.
Rumors fly around the school every year that Mr. B, the beloved art teacher, is having a fling with a student. This year, that rumor happens to involve Layla. She denies it up and down. There are always rumors. They’re never true. So they ran into each other at an art museum – he’s an art teacher, it makes sense that he’d be at an art museum. They didn’t plan to hang out. Nothing weird is going on. But then Nell finds the two video chatting one night, and she has absolutely no idea what to do.
We Are the Goldens is written like a letter from Nell to Layla, explaining her rationale for her decisions. She describes so perfectly her feelings about the situation and how it correlates to what’s going on in her own life. And from Nell’s perspective, Layla is out of control.
From my perspective, Layla is a horrible role model. She uses and abuses Nell’s love and trust to have Nell lie for her, defend her, keep her secrets. So that Nell will stand by as Layla self-destructs. Suffice it to say, I did not care for Layla at all. She never acts like a particularly good sister, and it’s hard to see why Nell adores her so much. We’re told that they were inseparable growing up, but it’s hard to connect that to the manipulative older sister we’re presented with in the book.
In addition to all the problems with Layla and the stress of having to keep this terrible secret, Nell is dealing with the confusing high school dating scene and trying to separate her own interests from those of her sister. And this was the part of the story that I liked. I’ll be honest. I couldn’t stand Layla. It was so obvious, despite Nell’s protests, that Nell cared for her sister much more than her sister cared for her. But Nell’s other relationships, like the one with her parents, or the one with her best friend Felix… those were the ones that kept me reading.
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to say much else. Just that the ending was very ambiguous, and I would have preferred a concrete ending. I wanted to know what happened with Layla, what happened with Mr. B, what happened with Felix. After learning so much about these characters, I felt cheated that I didn’t find out how everything worked out in the end.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free ARC.
Final rating: ★★★☆☆
[also posted here]
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