All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Golden Child by Wendy James

on January 26, 2017

golden-childThe Golden Child
Wendy James
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 334p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …

When a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied, the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for and Beth must face the question: Just how well does she know her children?

This novel made me never want to have high-school aged children.

Obviously that’s not an option. My children are 8 and 5, they’re going to get there at some stage. Probably far sooner than I would like. But this book made me desperately want to slow time to a crawl, to put off that inevitable stage. It terrifies me, how much bullying has escalated in this day and age of social media and anonymous keyboard warriors. It terrifies me that schools make all the right noises but struggle to really understand what is happening and effectively control it, now that so much of it happens out of school hours and grounds.

At the beginning of the story, Beth lives in America, her husband having been transferred there for work. Her girls seem a dream – younger daughter Charlie is pretty and popular. Older daughter Lucy doesn’t have Charlie’s popularity and circle of friends but is smart and sweet. When Beth’s husband Dan gets a transfer back to Australia, there are mixed feelings. It’s to Newcastle, his home town and where his mother still lives. Not Sydney, Beth’s town. Beth’s home. For Beth, coming back to Australia isn’t going the way she had it planned out in her head.

Unable to work in America as she doesn’t have a greencard, Beth runs a sort of “Mummy blog” and I think this novel pokes gentle fun at the “image” of blogging – the light, breezy posts about life, the quirky antics of children, the effortlessness of it all as well as the regular band of people offering comments in the form of unsolicited advice, their personal experiences/opinions or criticisms. As “Lizzy” on her blog, Beth is able to portray her life the way she wants and I suppose that’s the thing about blogging. There are a plethora of them out there, each one more beautifully constructed than the last. Away from “Lizzy”, Beth’s life is slowly coming apart at the seams. She feels Dan becomes a different person when around his mother, a capable woman that Beth feels doesn’t like her. It’s in that way that many of us feel about our in-laws I suppose….a “feeling”, more on what isn’t said than what is. The children are resentful about leaving, find their new house which is in need of renovation, unappealing and are going through the awkward stages of beginning a new school, of being outsiders. For Charlie, now wanting to be known as Charlotte, it’s a cool assessment of the social hierarchy and mentally calculating how to fit in where she wants to.

Reading a book like this makes me examine my own behaviour as a teenager in high school. There’s no doubt I did some things that, looking back now, I wish I hadn’t. I experienced taunting by other students – I wouldn’t call it bullying because it wasn’t prolonged and overall, I had a mostly positive experience with good friends. But there were definitely times I wished I could change schools (briefly) or that someone else would change schools to make my life a bit easier! I think that sort of stuff is normal – put a few hundred teens together in a relatively small environment and you’re going to get personality clashes and people who fight for dominance. It’s when it goes beyond that, the systematic and relentless targeting of someone, coupled with horrible messages like “kill yourself” that it’s a whole other level. Kids have a pack mentality too, which can lead to people participating in things because others are, for recognition, for a desire not to be singled out themselves and when they isolate a weakness in someone, they can be utterly brutal. Saying things they don’t mean, just words unaware of how seriously they will be taken. I also find that at that age, they don’t seem to connect very well with serious events, which may perhaps explain a few offhand reactions to the serious event that happens in this book.

I’ve read Wendy James before, so I know there are always more layers to the story. The way in which the perspectives build a story here, construct something that you think is true and then tear it down is quite masterful. It made me question what I know about my children as their parent, what I know about their character. How much is what I see because I want to? If my kids ever got involved in bullying or taunting someone at school, how much would I know about it and would I be able to believe it? I look at them now, they have very different personalities. My oldest is incredibly social but a bit sulky and resentful when he doesn’t get things his own way and a typically dominant older brother. My youngest is heartbreakingly shy and lacks the self-confidence his older brother has in spades. I think about how I’d feel if they were a bully or one being bullied and this is the stuff people never tell you about when you have kids! About how you might stop worrying about if they’re feeding ok or sleeping enough or growing right or developing on pace but you worry about other things and honestly, it doesn’t get much better!

This was one of my most anticipated books for the first half of 2017 and I’m so impressed that it lived up to (and perhaps exceeded) all of my expectations. It’s a truly brilliant book both for discussion…or to reflect on yourself.


Book #15 of 2017


The Golden Child is book #5 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


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