Title: The Whole Golden World
Author: Kristina Riggle
No. of Pages: 448
Origins: William Morrow and Company
Release Date: 5 November 2013
Bottom Line: Beautiful and utterly thought-provoking
“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.”
Thoughts: The Whole Golden World means to shock, but more importantly it means to open up dialogue about maturity, the age of consent, the responsibility of adults versus of children, the meaning of love, and so much more. Can a teenager really be wiser than her years? Where is that line between age of majority and age of maturity? In cases of underage sexual exploitation, does the fault always lie with the adult? Should it? Ms. Riggle raises all of these questions and more as her story of Morgan’s and TJ’s relationship unfolds in all of its messy, complicated drama.
Ms. Riggle brilliantly captures the black-and-white labels the public immediately put on all parties involved in such scandals but more importantly the fact that any situation involving teenagers is not necessarily as clear-cut as the public wants it to be. The truly fascinating part of the story is the fact that had TJ been someone other than Morgan’s teacher, their relationship would have been completely legal in the state of Michigan. This point takes a complicated situation and makes it even more convoluted. Why is one type of relationship allowed and not the other? Does a teaching position really make one more responsible for exploitation? Regardless of how one feels about the scenario, such questions not only increase one’s interest in the book but also force readers to reevaluate the laws established to protect our children.
A reader’s sympathy veers widely from one character to another as the story unfolds. Rain’s preoccupation with having children explains TJ’s wandering eye, even if it does not necessarily excuse his actions. Dinah is such a ferocious mother bear that it is no wonder Morgan finally rebels. Readers will also waffle back and forth as to the guilty party. Is it TJ because of his marriage and his age? Is it Morgan because she is the instigator? Does it even matter? Is it even fair to place the blame on one individual’s shoulders? There are just so many questions that a reader has to answer based on his or her own beliefs and interpretation of the story, but therein lays its greatness.
Ms. Riggle’s latest novel takes a taboo scenario and flays it open to show the impossibility of discerning the guilt, innocence or even truth. There are few direct answers to the plethora of questions raised, but readers will not mind the chance for self-reflection and reevaluation of a forbidden relationship. That combined with excellent pacing, well-rounded characters, and a titillating plot make The Whole Golden World truly brilliant.