3.6 11
by Francine Prose

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At the center of Francine Prose's profoundly moving new novel is a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister. As her parents drift toward their own risky consolations, thirteen-year-old Nico is left alone to grope toward understanding and clarity, falling into a seductive, dangerous relationship with her sister's enigmatic

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At the center of Francine Prose's profoundly moving new novel is a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister. As her parents drift toward their own risky consolations, thirteen-year-old Nico is left alone to grope toward understanding and clarity, falling into a seductive, dangerous relationship with her sister's enigmatic boyfriend.

Over one haunted summer, Nico must face that life-changing moment when children realize their parents can no longer help them. She learns about the power of art, of time and place, the mystery of loss and recovery. But for all the darkness at the novel's heart, the narrative itself is radiant with the lightness of summer and charged by the restless sexual tension of teenage life.

Goldengrove takes its place among the great novels of adolescence, beside Henry James's The Awkward Age and L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
[Prose's] modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought. And it blossoms into a smart, gimlet-eyed account of what 13-year-old Nico sees happening around her after the loss of the more alluring, glamorous and manipulative Margaret. Nico's experience goes well beyond the realms of adolescence and family dynamics and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico's world…Goldengrove is one of Ms. Prose's gentler books—far more so than the bitingly satirical A Changed Man. But it's not a sentimental one. It draws the reader into and then out of "that hushed and watery border zone where we live alongside the dead," and it does this with mostly effortless narrative verve. And it scorns the bathos of its genre, so it does not become an invitation to wallow in suffering. It prefers the comforts of strength, growth and forward motion.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Nico is such a dynamic, unsettled character that she compels us through a story that could have been grim and static…What's surprising about Goldengrove is how exciting it becomes. Margaret's hunky boyfriend never paid Nico much attention before, but in the throes of his sorrow, he seeks her out. Despite the age difference, the two of them discover that their shared loss provides the basis for a comforting friendship. It's also charged with an unsettling element of eroticism, and here Prose is at her very best, ratcheting up the creepy elements of this relationship. Again and again, she tempts us to suspect that Nico is in real danger only to reassure us a moment later that she's safe and sound. It's a perfect blend of the 13-year-old's persistent innocence and erratic shrewdness, all wildly confused by grief and sexual attraction. The result is a gripping crisis with strong allusions to Hitchcock's "Vertigo."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In Prose's deeply touching and absorbing 15th novel, narrator Nico, 13, comes upon Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring and Fall" (which opens "Margaret, are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving?") in her father's upstate New York bookstore, also named Goldengrove. It's the summer after her adored older sister, Margaret-possessed of beauty, a lovely singing voice and a poetic nature-casually dove from a rowboat in a nearby lake and drowned. In emotive detail, Nico relates the subsequent events of that summer. Nico was a willing confidant and decoy in Margaret's clandestine romance with a high school classmate, Aaron, and Nico now finds that she and Aaron are drawn to each other in their mutual bereavement. Unhinged by grief, Nico's parents are distracted and careless in their oversight of Nico, and Nico is deep in perilous waters before she realizes that she is out of her depth. Prose eschews her familiar satiric mode. She fluidly maintains Nico's tender insights into the human condition as Nico comes to discover her own way of growing up and moving on. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

The summer her older sister, Margaret, drowns, 13yearold Nico, her parents, and Margaret's boyfriend, Aaron, each plunge into lonely cells of inconsolable grief. When Aaron reaches out to Nico, she's left to interpret the high school senior's increasingly creepy overtures on her own. The adolescent dialog by Prose, winner of the 2008 Edith Wharton Achievement Award for Literature and a 2004 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age honoree (for After), resounds with authenticity. Actress Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) conveys Nico's innocence and vulnerability without sentimentality. Recommended both for public library YA and adult fiction collections. [Also available from Recorded Bks. 7 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 8 hrs. ISBN 9781436158459
—Judith Robinson

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

An evocative, emotionally rich story of female adolescence and grief. Nico, the 13-year-old protagonist, lives a life of ease in her family's lake house. Her parents are well-intentioned and progressive. Her older sister is in many ways the center of Nico's universe-Nico is fascinated by Margaret's beauty, her cigarette habit, and her femininity. There is obvious love between the two of them, and a shared intelligence and wit that manifests itself in their conversation. Because Nico's awe of her sister is evident from the start, the situation is all the more painful when Margaret drowns. The narrative then focuses on Nico's grief, her attempt to reconcile her sadness with her growing feelings for Margaret's brooding boyfriend, and the family's attempt to redefine itself. As usual, Prose's writing is spot-on: she conveys the psychological turmoil of the situation with stark, simple language and tempers the sadness with moments of dry humor. Nico has a decidedly adult voice, but teen readers will nevertheless appreciate her wisdom and her confusion, her selfishness and her budding sexuality. The author taps into the deepest corners of her characters' minds and spins a hook-filled plot around a complex protagonist. Fans of Sarah Dessen, Sara Zarr, and Deb Caletti will enjoy Goldengrove immensely.-Caitlin Fralick, Ottawa Public Library, ON

Kirkus Reviews
The emotional challenges of adolescence are exacerbated by the ordeal of bereavement in Prose's plaintive novel (A Changed Man, 2005, etc.). The stage is set in a first chapter that details the relationship between 13-year-old narrator Nico and her beautiful older sister Margaret, a headstrong charmer who channels the auras of romantic movies and popular songs into a vibrant personality that Nico simultaneously adores and despairs of ever equaling. Then the unthinkable happens. Margaret perishes in a boating accident (on a lake in upstate New York), and Nico is thrust into the maelstrom of grief that afflicts her sister's artistically gifted boyfriend Aaron, her angry and self-pitying mother and her stoical father (owner of the bookstore in which Nico, while browsing, discovers the limpid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that gave Margaret her name and-Nico surmises-may have influenced her fate). Though less fully plotted than it might be, this moving novel succeeds by sticking closely to Nico's stormy emotions, as she explores the newly aroused fears that redefine her relationship with her parents, while learning on the fly to deal with Aaron's borderline-creepy appropriation of her attention (drawing her into "our hopeless love triangle with the dead"). And Prose gives it a persuasive further dimension in the leitmotif of the historical incident that obsesses Nico's father: the story of a doomsday cult that anticipated the end of the world and awaited the occurrence on a remote promontory thereafter known as Disappointment Hill. As a lucid and moving chronicle of growing up baffled and challenged, this novel is energized by a thoughtful quality of impertinent wit that sometimes recalls J.D.Salinger in his heyday (though many readers will be reminded even more strongly of L.P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between and Ian McEwan's contemporary classic Atonement). Arguably a tad too wistfully meditative, Prose's latest novel nevertheless charms and persuades.
“Francine Prose’s new novel is a quiet, clear-eyed, sun-dappled eulogy to lost youth, and a youth lost. . . . [Prose is ] a keen chronicler of human emotion.”
Booklist (starred review)
“...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Beautifully crafted...perhaps her most emotionally satisfying novel.”
Hartford Courant
“A poignant account of growing up amid sorrow...a tender and moving story of adolescent love.”
O magazine
“An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief”
Los Angeles Times
“With a dazzling mix of directness and metaphor, Prose captures the centrifugal and isolating force of grief...Prose exquisitely renders her characters’ grief and bafflement.”
New York Times
“Ms. Prose is perceptive. . . . Her modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought.... and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico’s world.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“With perfect pitch and no trace of sentimentality, Prose . . . lands on the precise emotional key for this novel . . . allowing humor and compassion to seep through the cracks of an otherwise dark tale.”
Chicago Tribune
“Prose locates the life force that gives her narrator the quirky, irreverent but undeniable sound of a survivor. . . . Prose is tremendously skilled.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A page-turner, thanks to its wholly identifiable, and perfectly flawed, young heroine. A-”
Deseret Morning News
“Prose creates characters with real flaws that make the reader both love and hate them. It is easy to put oneself in the position of any of the players...”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Prose holds up a mirror to grief and family life we can’t look away from, revealing their truths on page after page, in beautifully crafted writing.”
Miami Herald
“Prose’s skillful rendering of the human ability to accept hard truths and move on is a poignant lesson for us all.”
Seattle Times
“Arguably, “Goldengrove” is her best book yet.”
Redbook Magazine
“A beautiful narrative that defines resilience as the sometimes heartbreaking act of simply living”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Insightful, lyrical... “Goldengrove” is beautifully and simply written...a moving portrait of the search for identity through a landscape of pain and loss.”
O Magazine
"An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief"
"...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.49(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Novel

Chapter One

We lived on the shore of Mirror Lake, and for many years our lives were as calm and transparent as its waters. Our old house followed the curve of the bank, in segments, like a train, each room and screened porch added on, one by one, decade by decade.

When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something—a pebble, a raindrop—breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin.

That was how Margaret would have thought. My sister was the poet.

I was Miss One-Thing-After-the-Next. Which is how I remember what happened.

But that's not how it happened at all. One thing happened, then everything else, like a domino falling and setting off a collapse that snakes out toward the horizon and spills over into the future.

If all the clocks and calendars vanished, children would still know when Sunday came. They would still feel that suck of dead air, that hollow vacuum created when time slips behind a curtain, when the minutes quit their orderly tick and ooze away, one by one. Colors are muted, a jellylike haze hovers and blurs the landscape. The phone doesn't ring, and the rest of the world hides and conspires to pretend that everyone's baking cookies or watching the game on TV. Then Monday arrives, and the comforting racket starts up all over again.

Even before that Sunday, I was glad to see the day end. It wasn't that I liked school so much, but the weekends lasted forever. The loneliness, the hours to fill with books, homework,computer, watching old films with my sister, if she was in the mood. Silence, then the Sunday sounds of our house by the lake. My mother playing the piano, my dad's prehistoric Selectric.

That Sunday, that first Sunday in May, was so warm I couldn't help wondering: Was it simply a beautiful day, or a symptom of global warming? Even the trees looked uncomfortable, naked and embarrassed, as if they were all simultaneously having that dream in which you look down and realize you've forgotten to put on your clothes.

Two Cleopatras in our royal barge, my sister and I reclined and let our little rowboat drift out onto the lake. Margaret arched her shoulders, flung one arm over the side, and trailed her fingertips in the water. It was one of those actressy gestures she'd copied from the classic black-and-white movies to which she was addicted. She liked me to watch them with her, and we were allowed to stay up, because our mother said we would learn more from Some Like It Hot than from a year of school. It was often hard to tell what our mother meant, exactly, except that we learned to flutter our lashes and say, "What's a girl to do?" in breathy little-girl whispers.

One thing Margaret and I had in common was: we could do imitations. We knew whole scenes by heart, like the end of Flying Deuces, when Hardy is killed in a plane crash and then reincarnated as a horse with a black mustache and a bowler hat. Laurel's so happy to see him he throws his arms around Ollie—that is, the horse possessed by Ollie's grumpy spirit.

Sometimes Margaret would do a gesture or line and ask me what film it was from. Her silvery laughter was my prize for getting it right. The only rowboat scene I knew was the one in which Montgomery Clift pushes Shelley Winters into the water. And I was pretty certain that wasn't what Margaret was doing.

Margaret said, "This is heaven."

I wished I could have been like her instead of the kind of person who said, "Don't you ever worry about the polar ice caps melting?"

"Debbie Downer," said Margaret. "Give yourself a break. It's Sunday, Nico. Take a day off." Squinting, she aimed her smoke rings so that they encircled the sun like foggy auras.

Margaret had promised our parents she wouldn't smoke. Mom's parents and Dad's father had all died young of smoking-related causes. Both of our parents used to smoke. Their friends had started dying. The new weapon in the arsenal of Mom and Dad's War on Smoking was some bad news we'd gotten that fall: Margaret had a heart condition. A mild one, but I worried.

She'd fainted the first and last time Mom talked us into doing yoga with her. I still have a photo my father took that day on the lawn, of the three of us doing downward-facing dog or some other mortifying position that, our mother had convinced herself, was helping her arthritis. Margaret, Mom, and I are bent till our heads nearly touch the ground, like those snakes that, Margaret told me, bite their tails and roll after the children they swallow whole. Planted apart for balance, our legs take up most of the photo, downward-facing croquet hoops of descending sizes. What the picture doesn't show is that, seconds after it was taken, Margaret collapsed in a pile of leaves. At first we'd thought she was joking.

Our pediatrician, Dr. Viscott, ran some tests and said that Margaret should eat well, exercise, don't smoke. That stutter on her heart graph was something they'd keep their eye on.

Margaret knew she could smoke around me. Smoking was the least of the things she trusted me to keep secret.

From across the lake, we heard our mother practicing the spooky Chopin waltz that always made me think of ballroom dance music for ghosts. She kept making mistakes and starting over again. She'd wanted to be a pianist, she'd gone to music school, but she changed her plans when she met my dad and they ran off to be hippies. Margaret had found a snapshot of them picking soybeans on a commune in northern California. Long hair, overalls, bandannas, a Jesus beard on Dad.

A Novel
. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
April 1, 1947
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

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