When the affluent Jensons move into town, it’s difficult for the neighborhood children to see past the allure of the fancy toys, bikes, and aboveground pool that sons Colt and Bastian have. Syd Kiley, his brother Declan, and their friends Avery and Garrick befriend the new boys, while Syd’s oldest sister, Freya, takes a shine to Mr. Jenson, idolizing this more attractive counterpart to her own drunken father and chaotic family. It’s clear that unhappiness simmers beneath the surface in this neighborhood, with everyone believing that “the things they don’t want are all they have.” But similarities exist between these disparate individuals, and as Hartnett’s narrative methodically unfolds, lurking secrets reveal themselves, with many children paying the price for their parents’ failings. Writing in an Australian vernacular and alternating among the perspectives of Colt, Freya, and Syd, Hartnett (Butterfly) skillfully weaves metaphors and foreshadowing into her affecting prose, such as Freya’s view of the world as a castle to explore, and her darker vision of a haunting yellow-eyed monster. Hartnett’s examination of different forms of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse is an unsettling, often brutal must-read. Ages 14–up. (Apr.)
Hartnett spins her tale with stunning subtlety, building tension in tiny doses with measured sentences and potent metaphors. Rex’s keening voice is “the frustrated sound of a night-hunting animal or accused prince,” while Freya’s father’s anger is “a quicksandy pit.” With the exception of Freya’s father’s drunken rages, the action is surprisingly mundane, nothing more than a bike ride, a conversation over tea, or scuffle between boys, but Hartnett teases so much from those minuscule moments that they spill over with a low-level, snowballing thrum of imminent violence and heartbreaking significance. Astoundingly brilliant.
—Booklist (starred review)
Writing in an Australian vernacular and alternating among the perspectives of Colt, Freya, and Syd, Hartnett (Butterfly) skillfully weaves metaphors and foreshadowing into her affecting prose, such as Freya’s view of the world as a castle to explore, and her darker vision of a haunting yellow-eyed monster. Hartnett’s examination of different forms of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse is an unsettling, often brutal must-read.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Hartnett's mesmerizing story, told in shifting perspectives, begins with the "golden boys," 12-year-old Colt and his younger brother Bastian, sons of the movie-star-handsome, yet unsettlingly "try-hard" dentist Rex Jenson...Although there is some action—rambling bike rides, scrapes with a bully, a father's drunken rampages and grisly moments aplenty—the brilliantly expressed private thoughts of Colt and neighbor-girl Freya are what really propel this literary novel. As the salty, credible Aussie banter keeps the brutal narrative buoyant, Golden Boys dazzlingly reflects the ferocity, rage, dread, shame, guilt and dark understanding with which children view the flawed adults around them.
—Shelf Awareness for Readers (starred review)
Hartnett’s writing hums with intelligence as the third-person narration focalizes through the various child characters, following them as they begin to see their domestic worlds anew...Readers starting to see through to the many falsehoods of the adult realm will appreciate the realism and the sophisticated subtextual work, and there are curricular opportunities aplenty for discussion here.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
The menacing dynamics present in so many of the relationships are persistently disquieting but also authentic, and a tone of dread pervades...Sophisticated teen readers will be wowed by this gorgeous, tension-filled novel...
The kids in the book face alcoholic parents, neglectful parents, parents that look the other way, and pedophiles. The neighborhood kids refuse to remain silent about their abusive parents, and additional conflicts arise. The book’s ending is not sugar-coated—life simply marches forward. Multiple perspectives make this a well-rounded read for teens interested in realistic drama.
The lyrical nature of the writing coupled with the Australian terminology and difficult themes are suitable for sophisticated readers only. Young people who struggle with tough family situations will likely find this book rings true.
—School Library Connection
Gr 10 Up—There is something unsavory about Colt's father, and readers will feel that right away. Teenage Colt is one of two principal interior narrators and the new kid on the block. His father, Rex, is a dentist and flaunts his wealth by buying a pool and cool toys for the neighborhood boys. Through Colt's eyes, readers see revulsion and awareness of his father's ploys but not much concrete evidence of his father's guilt. The work is written in a timeless gothic tone with rich symbolism and figurative language. The other narrator, Freya, the eldest of six children of an alcoholic printer, is losing faith in God and looking for a hero. Freya's father is a wife beater, and she and Declan, the oldest boy, take the brunt of the responsibility, as does Colt, when Rex proves that he is not the hero she imagines. What is remarkable about this novel is the way in which every character is developed through shifting points of view, such as through the neighborhood bully, Garrick, and neglected waif Avery. The book is a portrait of a working-class neighborhood. Readers will muse over all the relationships in order to ascertain why violence is so often misdirected with the worst offenders remaining unscathed. VERDICT An absorbing read for mature teens, ready to face the ugly truth of scapegoating to maintain social cohesion, however broken.—Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School High School, New York City
The arrival of two wealthy boys to a working-class neighborhood brings the strained intensity present in both theirs and another home to a boil in this latest from Hartnett, first published in 2014 for adults in her native Australia. Twelve-year-old Colt and 10-year-old Bastian are showered with the newest and best of everything by their dentist father, but his generosity is laced with a poisonous solicitude, and he eventually causes strife among their new neighbors. At the same time, 12-year-old Freya is the oldest in a large family and is resentful of her cramped, meager circumstances. She's recently begun to realize her parents' marriage is deeply troubled and struggles to find support in coping with her father's alcoholism and violence. Hartnett sets this tale in an unspecified time before mobile phones and computers, the neighborhood evidently largely white. The language is mesmerizing, her phrases exquisitely crafted, particularly when describing rot and waste, where they take on an almost gothic style: "It's an unlovely, ramshackle place, thrumming with insects, thorny with blackberry and thistle." The menacing dynamics present in so many of the relationships are persistently disquieting but also authentic, and a tone of dread pervades, though in the end, events are understated. Sophisticated teen readers will be wowed by this gorgeous, tension-filled novel, but its more natural audience may be adults. (Fiction. 13 & up)