The newest novel by Kristina Riggle is no happy walk in the park. While the title may sound uplifting, The Whole Golden World actually presents three perspectives in a dark tale of relationships, both romantic and familial, and the aftermath of an inappropriate affair between a high school teacher and one of his on-the-cusp-of-adulthood students.
Heavy stuff, I tell you.
Morgan Monetti, like many seventeen-year-olds, thinks she is not like other seventeen-year-olds. She’s always been a successful student, and as the oldest of three children, she’s filled the role of the child who doesn’t add to the family challenges. Her younger brothers, twins born significantly premature, have had years’ worth of doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions, and Morgan learned quickly to adapt, doing her homework in office waiting rooms and keeping quiet. She longs for her upcoming high school graduation and her 18th birthday that will usher in her departure from her childhood home as she heads off to college on her own. She dreams of going far from her Michigan home, and she is more than ready to begin her adult life. Though she may be more mature in some ways than many of her peers, emotionally, she’s still clearly an adolescent. Her particular emotional vulnerabilities certainly factor into the path she takes in developing a relationship with her math teacher, Mr. TJ Hill. Though their relationship is sexual, Morgan views it through an emotional lens, and she truly believes she has found meaningful love.
The book alternates perspectives, and in addition to Morgan, we also see the family experiences through the eyes of Morgan’s mom Dinah, as well as Mr. Hill’s wife Rain. Each woman is facing her own struggles in her respective marriage and personal life. Dinah’s tendency to hyper-focus on her children’s care, even as they all have advanced to adolescence, has taken its toll on her relationship with her husband, who puts most of his attention and time toward his job as the assistant principal at his children’s school. Rain, meanwhile, has spent many months trying to fulfill her desire to become a mother, and the monthly disappointment weighs on her relationship with TJ. In both of these marital relationships, there is more that goes unsaid than not, and the effects of their dissipating communication run deep.
I have to admit that I found this reading experience to be quite uncomfortable. There was very little happiness to outweigh the negative experiences of all the main characters- a teen girl frustrated with her life who develops feelings for a teacher, the teen’s mother whose own marriage is a shell of its former self, the teacher whose immaturity and personal weaknesses become harder and harder to read about, and the teacher’s wife who is the literary character one wants to reach into the book to shake. The book was well-written and I wanted to continue reading to discover what kind of resolution could possibly be found for this terrible scenario, but I felt dismayed throughout the reading for the characters’ predicaments.
I haven’t read any of Kristina Riggle’s previous novels, so I cannot make a comparison, but I would recommend that readers be prepared for an intense read with her latest.