Trade Paperback, 448 pages
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.
The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle opens up with a trial in progress and a family in crisis/conflict, so we know right from the start that something untoward is going to happen in the small town of Arbor Valley, Michigan. After a series of rejections, high school senior Morgan Monetti turns to her married calculus teacher, T.J. Hill, for support. She believes she is mature enough to have an affair with him. Morgan is sure that it is love. She believes his wife, Rain, doesn't understand him.
Morgan's mother, Dinah, is already overwhelmed raising her younger special needs twin teenage sons and running a coffee shop near the school. Her husband, and Morgan's father, is an assistant principal at the high school and is emotionally distant and often absent, leaving everything to Dinah. In the past Dinah has treated Morgan as if she is older than her years. After the arrest of T.J. and the truth comes out about Morgan and T.J. Dinah's world is feeling even more embattled than it already felt. As the trial begins, the Monetti family faces a backlash of cruel gossip and graffiti from the popular opinion of the community.
Rain, the wife of T.J., has been going through fertility treatments, trying to get pregnant. She assumes that T.J.'s story - that any affair was all in Morgan's head - is true and she stands by him, supporting him. We learn what really happened, as well as more about T.J. Hill.
The story slowly unfolds through the eyes of these three female characters. After the opening when the trial has started, the novel jumps back in time so we understand what was going on before the current events came to light. Riggle does an excellent job opening up the inner thoughts of her female leads to our scrutiny as they go through their daily lives handling the stress around them. All of them feel like real people, with strengths and flaws, but ultimately women who are trying to do what is right and what they believe.
I sort of wanted to see T.J. skewered and thrown over a BBQ pit. That part, having to read about a married adult having an affair with a teenage girl just really ticked me off. Yes, lots of people think a seventeen year old is old enough to know better. But, come on. Isn't a 29/30 year old man old enough to really know better and should have the ability to say no to the initiation of any intimate contact? Why is the teen girl thrown out as a Lolita when the freakin' adult male is right there too? Sheesh. (Recent items in the news just make me want to yell about this even more.) T.J. acted like a spoiled brat who couldn't understand why he should be held up to any higher standard.
Obviously, The Whole Golden World really captured my attention as I anxiously read to the end. It is always an easy book to read. People do make bad choices. But there are also plenty of people who like to cast blame on others and not themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your actions is one of the signs of a healthy adult. Mistakes happen. Taking responsibility for your part in them and not making or allowing any excuses to be made is mature. But, more importantly, understanding the role and power that a position of authority naturally has over anyone in a subordinate position is key.
I'm now going to look up Riggles previous book, Real Life & Liars, and plan to read it sometime soon. If an author can capture my attention, hold it, and get me all worked up over her book, then I think she did a great job, don't you?
Very Highly Recommended
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Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review purposes.