Goldengrove by Francine Prose

Title: Goldengrove
Author: Francine Prose
Published: 2008 by HarpersCollins Publishers
Number of pages: 275
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I went to a funeral Saturday morning. The mother of one of my former students died of cancer; she was 43, her daughter is 12. It’s never easy to go to these…to experience grief such as the loss of one’s parent or child.

I think books help assuage the pain. I think they help us learn how to grieve by viewing a character we care about, but don’t love. As we read the interactions, the emotions, the growth of those left behind in the pain process, we are better able to cope with our own.

Such is the case with Goldengrove. It is a beautifully written book. A book which touches me to the core because it’s so easy for me to feel alone when I grieve, just as Nico does when her sister, Margaret, dies.

The sisters are floating on Mirror Lake together, casually rowing and talking, when Margaret makes a salute, dives into the water, and never comes out again alive. Nico, along with her parents and Margaret’s boyfriend, Aaron, cope with their grief as we carefully observe their raw emotions.

Nico’s father becomes lost in writing his book while he and his daughter work at the family’s bookstore, Goldengrove. Nico’s mother loses her appetite for food, but not for the medications she takes for arthritis pain. Aaron, perhaps worst of all, makes Nico into her sister in his mind. Which she, at first, is willing to accept just to have some contact with him.

This is essentially a story of Nico; not only of her grief, but of her growing up. The age of thirteen is such a tender age in any circumstance, let alone the loss of one’s dearest sister. I could so empathize with how carefully Nico’s character was portrayed; the searching, the awkwardness, the confusion of being an adolescent which is so difficult to endure. It is only compounded by her thinking of the issues death raises:

How strange that my father was writing the book about the end of the world, when I was the one who believed that it was going to happen. I thought about the cult members waiting to be zoomed up into the sky. They should have been more patient. Because now they were there, or somewhere. But not all together. Maybe they’d joined the robed angels in the Sienese orchard paradise. Maybe they’d been sent to hell for trying to get a free pass so they could spend eternity with all their loved ones, instead of losing them, one by one. I wondered how they’d really felt on the night they went home. Maybe some of them liked their lives and didn’t want to leave them.” (p. 154)

But, Nico comes through admirably. She lets us know that we can do it: suffer, grieve, and come out whole on the other side.

I felt myself slip out of my skin and become that girl watching her sister dive into the water. I lost myself in the time before, and in that innocent landscape, until the spell was broken by a museum guard, shouting.

He was speaking a foreign language, but I understood. He was saying I’d gotten too close. I’d let the current pull me. I’d allowed myself to drift into that hushed and watery border zone where we live alongside the dead. I was grateful to him for calling me back and reminding me where I belonged, in the clamorous, radiant, painfully beautiful kingdom of the living. (p. 275)

Francine Prose’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, September 22nd: Book Magic

Wednesday, September 23rd: Eclectic Book Lover

Thursday, September 24th: The Bluestocking Society

Thursday, October 1st: A Sea of Books

Monday, October 5th: A High and Hidden Place

Tuesday, October 6th: Books on the Brain

Wednesday, October 7th: S. Krishna’s Books

Thursday, October 8th : Book Chatter and Other Stuff

Tuesday, October 13th: Caribousmom

Wednesday, October 14th: Literate Housewife

Thursday, October 15th: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

27 thoughts on “Goldengrove by Francine Prose”

  1. Ugh. To lose a sister would be horrible, but in that way? You are right, reading about loss and tragedy does help us to understand our feelings and deal with them. It is almost serendipitous when these books find us at the exact right moment too.


  2. Sandy has said it much better than I can. This book has been on the radar; it is now on the list. Thank you for your review–it cannot have been easy to write.


  3. Wow. I'm actually blown away by this review. I think you provide a lot of insight into how books can help us. I'm so glad you were on this tour and liked the book so much! But I especially appreciate the obvious effort you put into your review. Thank you!


  4. That sounds like a really good book. The only thing, however, is that she sounds a bit older than 13. I don't know about the rest of the book, but those quotes kind of make her seem at least 16. Maybe it's just me?


  5. I was at KMart yesterday, picking up Halloween treats for the classroom, you know, and I saw it in their book section. I was amazed! It does seem to be everywhere, does it not? While the funeral was sad, there was a message of hope by the pastor at the end, and that is always so relieving to hear at funerals.


  6. Trish, you're so welcome. But, I'm so introsepctive by nature into take as much time as you might think to write the review. I'm constantly analyzing as I'm reading (which is probably why I can't read Nora Roberts ;).


  7. Emily, I think you're right. In many places the character sounds older than most thirteen year olds. However, the last quote was taken from when she was an adult, married woman. So, if that sounds more mature there's a reason.


  8. Madeleine, I'd imagine that with your young age (how old are you, anyway?) you could really relate to this book. I was very old for thirteen when I was that age; I remember being very scornful of my peers. It's only later that they seem to have caught up with me. 😉


  9. Kailana, I hope your library doesn't have a Holds list as long as most of the best sellers at ours. I tried to put The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on hold, and when I looked at place #157, I thought, "I'm just going to buy this." Good luck to you~!


  10. The character voice is brilliant, but I think that she would have to be in the last teenage years to sound and reason like that, unless she is some sort of prodigy at emotional growth and rediscovery. I'd love to give the novel a go though. It sounds just like the tragedy I would love to read.


  11. Harry, I can see you enjoying it. It's interesting to me how you like tragedies. I do, too, but wait until you're in your 40's and life gives you plenty without reading more.


  12. I will add this to my list. I am working on a novel where my main character deals with a sudden death. Would be helpful to see how this author's character handles the process.


  13. To be honest, my life is not missing its roller coaster moments, which seem a little more abundant on the downer side of the emotional plethora, but reading something more depressing and heart tearing usually drains my sadness faster and I am uplifted faster.


  14. This is definitely going on my TBR list. Reading a novel in which the focus is on death & grieving always helps me understand my own feelings about my loss. Reading this one may also help me understand how my daughter is coping with the loss of her sister. I know it's a novel, though, so it may not be quite as spot on as with a memoir or nonfiction work.I'm still feeling so sad for you and your student. Losing a mommy at such a tender age is just so heartbreaking.


  15. Les, I was thinking of you when I read this, as I know what rent this issue tears in our hearts. I think it's an interesting perspective, to look at the loss through the adolescent girl's eyse, one that might very much benefit your understanding. I am especially touched that the conclusion is a hopeful one.


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