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Oh, friends, I may not be the person to write this review — not least because I haven’t technically finished reading this quite short book. I mean, I’ve read most of it, and what I’ve missed, I have skimmed through as I was trying to get ready for this semi-late review. If I just waited to post until tomorrow morning, I’d have it all done and feel slightly more legit about this. But…if I’m being honest, finishing isn’t going to get me where I need to be to make a solid call on this one. Hartnett is a past honoree, and Golden Boys has four well earned stars — the writing is lovely, full of well-integrated motifs and gorgeous imagery.
I know, I know, I sound like the most ungrateful reviewer around, not appreciating all this bounty! We’ve talked before about preferences and baggage, and the difference between reading for yourself, reading for a collection, and reading for committee (all so different!). I am always someone who wants a lot of plot in my plot, who would prefer that characters run around — and maybe swing a vorpal sword while they run. But I recognize that’s not always what I will get in my reads. Case in point here!
So I will do my best to read like a committee member, despite my love of swords, magic, and characters running around. You will keep me honest, yes? Let me know if I’m overcompensating? Or if I’m being unduly harsh?
The writing really is gorgeous. The various tensions in the Kiley and Jenson households seep through the pages, touch all the characters. All of the children come out of their homes shaped by their experiences — Declan’s nobility and propensity to sacrifice, Freya’s longing that easily slips into hero worship, Syd’s angry practicality, Colt’s frozen confusion. Hartnett shifts the perspective from chapter to chapter, usually focusing on those four main characters (well, mostly Colt and Freya, but Declan and Syd are nearly as carefully delineated). It’s always a focused third person narration, and in this way, we get a sense not only of the kids as individuals, but of the neighborhood, of the community as a whole.
This community view allows the narrative to add up (in part) to a haunting and beautiful look at privilege, particularly adult privilege, and the way kids/teens perceive it, sometimes replicate it, and sometimes try to mitigate it. With Colt and Freya looking at the world with more awareness, it’s also about how growing up allows us to notice more, but not necessarily understand more.
Hartnett works in several repeating motifs throughout the text — the lurking, slinking, haunting golden eyed monster, the Jensen boys as delicate, something easily broken (stained glass, fragile eggs, etc — particularly Bastian). There’s a continuing sense that something vulnerable will soon be destroyed, nothing ever absolutely is.
There’s a lot that works well — and the things that don’t may be more me-things than anything else. I’ve already admitted that slow paced plots (almost more of a psychological character study, almost) are not my favorite reads. So the slow plot is maybe not the worst thing ever (but is a part of why I started skipping around). I also found the small bits of action to be somewhat predictable.
Held against all the things that do work, these critiques seem like small potatoes. Will it go the distance once RealCommittee gets to the table? With the ambivalent ending, dark moments, and slow pace, it may be a book that struggles to find consensus. But…I’m willing to call this a strong contender. What do you all think?
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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