Available May 27th, 2014
Contemporary YA Fiction
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Hardcover 208 pages
To Buy Links: Amazon/ Kindle/ MP3 CD/ Audible/ BN/ Book Depository/ Indiebound/ Kobo
Goodreads - Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.
When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They're a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell's a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she's happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it's wrong, and she must do something about it.
If you don't read the synopsis, you might think this book has something to do with competitions or winning and in a way you would be right. But not in a traditional sense. Nell and Layla are sisters, two years apart in school and Nell is in awe of her older, smarter, more beautiful sister. Everyone thinks so according to Nell, and as she is the narrator, we only hear that others agree. Except for her best friend Felix. Golden is actually their last name. And the competition is where does a sister stay quiet and where does she do what she thinks is best for her perfect, older beautiful sister?
Characters- Nell is the younger sister and she tells the story as if she's written everything down in a letter or videoed it, chronicling the rapid change in their relationship. Layla has become a stranger to her, secretive, distant, a liar, maybe even manipulative. She doesn't know or believe that this Layla is healthy. But Nell is in 9th grade and has always looked up to her older sister. Always shared everything with her, gone to her for advice. She doesn't know who to turn to for advice when she believes Layla is making a mistake, a big one.
Layla- Because of the way the story is told, as if in a letter from the first person, we only see Layla's personality and actions through the eyes of Nell. But it's enough to get the general idea of who Layla was before and who she is now and why Nell is worried. Though Layla is in 11th grade, she sounds a bit more mature and believes she is a lot more mature. She uses her sister and anyone else to get her way, but she isn't manipulative or evil. Just desperate. And blind to what she is doing to Nell.
Felix- Nell's best friend. He is her sounding board for everything else in her life, except this big secret. They have all kinds rituals they do and places they go. They are a couple in every sense of the word except they don't see it. Felix often tells Nell he loves her and she returns the sentiment but in a friendship sort of way. They are there for each other.
The Creed Brothers- These are two dead boys that died within a year of each other, Nell believes, or maybe everyone does, it wasn't that clear that after the first one died, the second took his own life because he couldn't bear to live without his brother. She sees herself and Layla as having the same type of codependent relationship. The Creed Brothers sit around in Nell's room (their ghosts) and talk to Nell encouraging her to do things like confront her sister, investigate where she was....not bad things like she has schizophrenia and is hearing voices that tell her to do something. This was a very strange element to the story that really didn't have a satisfactory conclusion.
The setting/World- Present day San Francisco. Oh would I love to see it! Nell mentions more than once how much she loves San Francisco and her city. Little shops and restaurants are described. There is a very intimate feeling to the place in the story despite the largeness of San Francisco.
The Story- Simply put, Nell and Layla have a codependent relationship as sisters who's parents got divorced when Nell was in Kindergarten and they announced it at Christmas. The two stuck together through weekends at Dad's and girlfriends and eventual marriage. Nell is much more dependent on Layla than the other way around having a bit of hero worship for her older sister. Nell starts going to the same school as Layla and has all these expectations for the two of them. Things don't pan out quite they way she wants them to mainly because of Layla's secret. As Nell tries to keep Layla's secret, she becomes more and more convinced that she shouldn't, but she feels like she can't betray her sister. And the one person she would go to in this situation is her sister.
What I thought- I thought it was okay. I thought the story was interesting enough and the character of Nell had enough substance to her to keep me going. It is a slow moving story, not a lot of action. I think a difference in the narration would have helped the story. Hearing everything told from Nell's voice in second person narrative kind of took any emotion out of it. And there should have been emotion in several parts of it. But I felt like I was reading someone's diary. And their life wasn't all that exciting.
The secret wasn't hard to figure out as soon as the story started, but it isn't kept from the reader for long anyway. That Nell kept it a secret from Felix, her best friend was surprising to me. She tells him everything. They talk freely about liking other people and about sex. Nell does something that I would say is out of character for her, but Felix stands up for her. So why she doesn't tell him doesn't really make sense to me.
And then there are those Creed brothers. Nell will see them sitting on the end of the bed talking to her and she talks back to them. I had to question if she had a mental illness? There were no other signs that she did. And it didn't sound like they had been friends. But she ran with them as she practiced for soccer. She would go change in the bathroom so they didn't see her naked. They seemed very real to her. When the story ended, they weren't addressed at all. The ending was just as quiet as the rest of the story.
There was underage drinking, inappropriate sexual relationships and sexual innuendo so I would say this was for the 16 and up crowd. I guess there is a bit of the paranormal in it with the Creed Brothers.
Thanks to the publisher for an e-ARC for review. This did not affect my review in any way. The opinions expressed in my review are my own.