The Whole Golden World, by Kristina Riggle.
She'd noticed he'd cut his hair shorter, which disappointed her. Already he looked less like himself. No doubt his lawyer had made him do it, that lady lawyer who probably thought shaggy hair made him look dangerous. Like she'd been some kind of helpless girl in a silent movie, tied to the railroad tracks while he cackled. That's what no one understood. She was no victim. She was a grown woman trapped in a body too young for anyone to take her seriously.
That quick, sad smile told her all she needed to know. Despite the courts saying it was a crime, despite her parents locking her down like she herself was a criminal, despite the gossip and vandals and spewing hate from random strangers ... he loved her anyway. Against the odds and against all sense. She lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders, as if the orchestra conductor had just raised her baton.
The judge cleared his throat and the air int he room seemed to freeze, as everyone waited for it all to begin.
Kristina Riggle is a Michigan author who always writes great books, so I was excited to receive a copy of her newest, The Whole Golden World. I have previously reviewed Keepsake (2012) and Things We Didn't Say (2011) by her, and enjoyed both of them; this novel was no exception.
Seventeen-year-old Morgan Monetti shocks her parents and her community with one simple act: She chooses to stand by the man everyone else believes has exploited her—popular high school teacher TJ Hill. Quietly walking across a crowded courtroom to sit behind TJ, and not beside her parents, she announces herself as the adult she believes herself to be.
But her mother, Dinah, wants justice. Dinah is a fighter, and she believes with all her heart and soul that TJ is a man who took advantage of her daughter. He is a criminal who should be brought to justice, no matter what the cost to his family.
Rain, TJ's wife, is shocked that her handsome, loving, respected husband has been accused of a terrible crime. But has her desperation to start a family closed her eyes to the fault lines in her marriage? And can she face the painful truths about herself and her husband?
Told from the perspectives of these three remarkable women, The Whole Golden World navigates the precarious territory between childhood and adulthood, raising questions about love and manipulation, marriage and motherhood, consent and responsibility. It's a novel both shocking and unforgettable in its power.
This novel could be based on events ripped from the headlines: we've all seen the articles about teachers "seducing" their students, so they say, and secretly wondered why a 30-40+ man or woman would do that. This book provides back story, and shows exactly how Morgan and Mr. Hill (TJ's) affair started; TJ was unhappy at home, because his wife wanted a baby and they were unable to conceive. Morgan was tired of being the responsible child, always looking after her younger twin brothers. She was also lonely after her boyfriend broke up with her, and she had a bit of a crush on Mr. Hill.
Riggle chooses to tell the story from three points-of-view: Morgan's; her mother, Dinah's; and TJ's wife, Rain's. This was a smart thing to do, in my opinion, because we get to learn so much about each of these characters, and see why they make the choices and decisions that they do.
It was also interesting to see how Morgan didn't think she was manipulated by TJ. Everyone else, including her parents, did; but Morgan's opinion on this eventually begins to change once she realizes how she actually was treated by TJ, and how he is still manipulating her now, even as the case goes to trial.
4.5 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I received an advance reader's edition of this novel for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.