Title: The Whole Golden World
Author: Kristina Riggle
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Morgan Monetti is a 17-year-old young woman who has always been expected to act older than her years. Her mother, Dinah, has her hands full with her coffee shop and Morgan’s twin younger brothers. Morgan knows she’s mature, so she makes a very adult decision: she enters into an affair with her math teacher, T.J.. This act, which Morgan believes is one of true love, will have lasting repercussions on Morgan, her family, her community, and on her teacher’s wife, Rain.
The Whole Golden World is a thought-provoking novel about fateful decisions, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and that very thin line between being 17 and 18 years old. Realistic characters and a ripped-from-the-headlines story combine to make this difficult story well worth the read.
Morgan, Dinah, and Rain: three very different women at various stages in their lives. Morgan is on the cusp of womanhood, still a girl though she believes she is an adult and should be treated as such. Dinah is a harried, overworked mother, thankful for the fact that her daughter is so trustworthy, unaware of what she is failing to protect her daughter from. And Rain is a wife who so badly wants to be a mother; she has no idea that her untrustworthy husband is making decisions that will impact her life. Riggle writes each of these characters such that the reader comes to know them intimately; they are frustrating and difficult, making so many bad decisions, yet they are each utterly compelling and realistic.
Riggle brings the question of responsibility front and center in The Whole Golden World. Morgan is just 17 years old and is a student; not only is entering into an affair, consensual or not, with her teacher against school rules, it’s illegal according to her state’s laws. But Morgan fully believes she is an adult; she refuses to believe that she is a victim, a girl who’s been preyed upon, because she’s capable of adult decision making and is in love. Can she be held responsible for her actions? And then there’s Dinah, who is devastated by these revelations. Has she been too quick to trust her daughter? Did she push Morgan to grow up too fast, inadvertently bringing this on?
The reader only gets to know T.J. through the eyes of Rain and Morgan in The Whole Golden World. From the beginning, it’s clear that he’s immature, but as the novel progresses, the reader begins to see just how insidious and manipulative he is. He’s not evil or malicious; he’s just selfish and thinks nothing of hurting both his wife and his student. It’s all about him. There are times when I had to put the book down, just because he made me so queasy, but he’s very well written.
The Whole Golden World is in no way an easy read. It’s difficult, and at times, even nausea-inducing. But it’s very well written and absolutely worth the read; Riggle poured her heart into her characters. Readers might want to yell at them, reaching through the pages of the book to shake some sense into them, but they are always realistic. The subject of student-teacher relationships has been visited often lately in fiction; Riggle’s novel is one of the most thoughtful treatments I’ve come across.
Other books by Kristina Riggle: