Review: Goldengrove by Francine Prose

Goldengrove-PB-199x300Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a tender examination of a young girl’s grief over the loss of her beloved older sister, Margaret.

Margaret is a dreamer, a lover of old movies, a poet and singer.  Nico and Margaret are sisters and co-conspirators, finding ways for Margaret and her boyfriend Aaron to be together behind their parents’ backs.  With summer coming up, the last summer the sisters will be together before Margaret goes off to college, they are looking forward to spending time together.  One warm spring day, Margaret and Nico take a rowboat out on the lake.  Margaret, smoking cigarettes and talking to 13 year old Nico about boys and sex, stands and gives Nico a final salute before diving into the water and heading for shore.  Except, she never gets there.  Margaret drowns in the lake, and life for her family is never the same.

“What had we talked about before?  Margaret had done all the talking.  Now there was nothing to say.  We were the wallflowers left behind when Margaret waltzed away.”

Margaret’s death is a minor tragedy in their small upstate New York community, but completely devastating for her family.  Her dad loses himself in his writing project, and her mom self medicates with alcohol.  Nico is mostly forgotten and ignored, although as their One Remaining Child, they do set down some rules and safety guidelines for her that sometimes seem a bit extreme.  At one point she wants to tell Margaret how goofy her parents are behaving, but then remembers the reason they are acting that way.  While her parents are distracted, Nico goes through every stage of grief.  Consumed by thoughts of Margaret, she must learn to cope with her loss.

Nico helps her dad at his bookstore, Goldengrove, and during slow times she reads up on heart conditions, fearing she has the same physical ailments Margaret had.  She also begins secretly hanging out with Aaron, becoming partners in grief with her sister’s lover. She believes he is the only one who understands what she’s going through, and being with him makes her feel normal again.  But his reasons for wanting to spend time together are different than hers; he wants to turn her into Margaret and doesn’t see her for the young, naive girl she actually is.

The majority of the story takes place during the summer after Margaret’s death; all of it, actually, except the last 4 or 5 pages.  This would be my only quibble with the book- the ending, with Nico as an adult, felt kind of tacked on, detached, and unnecessary. However, even with the quickie ending, this is realistic fiction at it’s finest.

Francine Prose has written a piece of art, a mournful yet exquisite novel that was an absolute pleasure to read.  She is amazingly talented and I am thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me author.  I’d highly recommend Goldengrove to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing, coming of age stories, or family drama.

Goldengrove is Francine Prose’s 15th novel.


For other stops on this blog tour, check out the TLC Book Tours schedule.

Listen to Francine Prose discuss Goldengrove with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio on Air.

24 Responses

  1. This one seems like it would be highly emotional, which I don’t mind at all, in the right mood. Excellent review!

  2. I think I only read one book by Prose and it was quite some time ago. I only remember that I wasn’t crazy about it. But now that I read your review I might give this author another chance because I am older now and my reading tastes and choices have changed, so I might actually like her writing now.

  3. Very nice! This is a wonderful blog… I had a great time browsing and reading your posts. You may also drop by my site if you have time. It’s about christian books . I’m sure you’d find my site useful.

  4. Excellent review! I just read a review of her new non-fiction book about Anne Frank. I’m looking forward to reading both!

  5. definitely an excellent review! i love coming of age novels, and am always hungry for more. i’ll definitely put it on my library list.🙂

  6. This sounds like an interesting novel. I have her Anne Frank book to review from BEA. I hope to get to that soon.

  7. This sounds fantastic! Grief can be difficult in a novel — especially if that’s what the novel is based around — but it sounds like the author handles it deftly! I’ll have to put this on my wishlist!

    Thanks for the great review, Lisa, and being on the tour!

  8. I almost didn’t read your review because I am not quite finished with the book. Prose is a new to me author also. I am so glad I have discovered her.

  9. I’m glad you enjoyed this book. It sounds like a book I’d also enjoy.

    I can’t believe Francine Prose has written FIFTEEN novels. Well, she has the perfect last name for an author. . . .

  10. This sounds so sad, but also good, if that makes sense at all. I have another one of Prose’s books, and hopefully, it’s as good.

  11. You were right about the last couple of pages. Totally unnecessary. Wonderful book.

  12. Great review! In doing some research on this book I discovered that Francine Prose is a pretty prolific author, with tons of books to her name. I think this book sounds terribly interesting, so I am going to be sure to add it to my wish list. I have been reading a few other great reviews of it this week, so I was glad to see that you thought it was good as well.

  13. I picked this up at the library yesterday. I am looking forward to it!

  14. This was my first Prose book. I had no idea she had written so many. I found this one to be very touching yet haunting at the same time.

  15. Quite a few of my pals are fans of Francine Prose–I had no idea she’s written so many books!

  16. This novel sounds wonderful, Lisa. Thanks for your great review. I admit I’ve been shy about reading anything by Francine Prose. I’m not sure why. I have no reason to be, and yet I am.

  17. […] looking forward to reading Goldengrove thanks to Lisa’s review at Books on the Brain.  I also want to read Prose’s new book about Anne Frank.  I read an excellent review in the […]

  18. Such a lovely cover! Sounds like a sad but poignant story

  19. I saw Francine Prose speak about her book at the Texas Book Festival in Austin last year and wanted to read it, but never got around to it. After reading this review, I’m going to put it on my list at the library. Great review.

  20. I have read many good reviews of this book and, as a result it’s almost top on my TBR list. The subject matter is very interesating to me and I like books that explore somewhat complex issues within an interesting family dynamic. Thank you for a wonderful review.

  21. […] wanted to read this one for a while. Here's what Lisa at Books on the Brain had to say about […]

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