Goldengrove is about Nico, a thirteen year-old living in remote New England, whose older sister drowns one May afternoon while the two are out canoeing on the lake behind their house. Margaret, who had a rare heart condition, never resurfaced after diving into the water. Goldengrove basically covers the summer after Margaret's death and how Nico (and her parents, to a lesser extent), cope with Margaret's death. Nico ends up in an intense but ultimately unhealthy relationship with Margaret's boyfriend, who, after first providing some solace to Nico, crosses some dangerous lines when he tries to turn Nico into Margaret to soothe his grief.
This is the first book I have read by Francine Prose. Her writing is clear and understated, and she did a fine job of describing Nico's grief and the bewilderment and loss she felt after Margaret died. She also a good job of getting into the head of a thirteen year-old. Nico's observations and thoughts felt age-appropriate, and were perhaps all the more poignant for it.
I had a little trouble with the sections that addressed that addressed the afterlife, redemption and heaven- themes that seemed to recur throughout the book (Nico's bookseller father's interest in the these topics, as well as Nico's own thoughts as a child and later in life). I ended up skimming some of those parts (what was up with the "staircase spirit" that followed Nico throughout the novel??). I was also disappointed that Nico's parents followed the pattern I've seen in so many other novels about kids whose siblings disappear or die – they disconnected and became so distracted and self-involved that they hardly noticed Nico for a whole summer. I realize that this is a plausible response to such a tragedy, but I was just hoping that in Goldengrove, the parents would be different. No such luck.
In the end, this one left me a little cold. I was sad for Nico's loss, but I had trouble really feeling much for her or her parents. Goldengrove is a short book, so it wasn't hard to get through, but I can't say that I was riveted.
Ok, EDIWTB book club readers, your turn! What did you think?
Big thanks to HarperPerennial for providing the books for this book club.