Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review: "Golden State" by Michelle Richmond

"What I believe is this: there is no divine flow chart, no elegant spiritual mathematics through which our lives are processed. Events occur, we respond to them, we make choices, and our lives are shaped accordingly."

Julie Walker's life has been shaped by many different events. Her father died when she was young; her mother raised Julie and her younger sister, Heather, in a small, stifling Mississippi town which Julie couldn't wait to leave. When Julie left for medical school in San Francisco, she felt bad about leaving her needy sister, but she needed to reinvent herself and start her future. Heather drifted from boyfriend to boyfriend, place to place, problem to problem, and came in and out of Julie's life.

Julie met Tom, a radio disc jockey, and the two fell deeply in love. And when an unexpected incident surprises them and transforms their lives, they are truly happy. Until Heather re-enters their lives, and everything falls apart in her wake, including, little by little, Julie and Tom's marriage. Heather leaves to join the Army, and the two sisters stop speaking completely for several years.

"I understand now how families become estranged, not by design but by embarrassment. You come to a point when so much time has passed that it seems impossible to make the first move."

Heather's return throws Julie into upheaval once again, and wreaks havoc with what is left of her relationship with Tom, especially once Heather reveals her pregnancy. Yet Julie agrees to deliver Heather's baby, and the day she goes into labor turns out to be one fraught with chaos—for Julie, for the possibility of a future with Tom, for the entire state of California. Julie faces a shocking crisis which forces her to re-evaluate everything in her life, including her relationships.

Golden State is tremendously compelling, thought-provoking, emotional, and very engaging. Michelle Richmond hooks you quite quickly into Julie's life and the crises she faces, as the book follows the course of one day, with occasional reminiscences of other times in Julie's life. It's a fascinating exploration about the ties and the loyalties of our relationships, those we're born into and those we choose.

"Between a marriage one chooses and a blood relation one doesn't, shouldn't marriage be the more powerful bond?"

I enjoyed Golden State a great deal. I really liked the complexity of both Julie and Tom's characters, compelled both by what has happened and what remains unsaid. I'll admit, however, while the major incident that drives much of the plot and forces Julie to reminisce certainly is a driver of the story, I felt as if it was almost superfluous; I thought Julie's story and her relationships with her sister and her husband could have stood on their own. But it didn't detract from the power of the story.

If you see any of the reviews or publicity around this book, it's recommended for fans of Jodi Picoult or Jacquelyn Mitchard. I worried a little bit that this book would be one of the ripped-from-the-headlines-type stories Picoult is well known for, but fortunately (in my opinion), this wasn't that way at all. It's just a well-written and well-told story that definitely makes you think how you'd react in similar situations.

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