Poppy’s family has a secret. It’s a secret so big that Poppy doesn’t even know what it is. She knows her family is on the run. From whom? Police. Bad guys. Everyone.
The Winslows barely exist. They leave only fake names, fake IDs and nary a digital trace behind. Schools come and go. Just when friendships take root, Poppy’s parents rip their family up and disappear, never to be seen again.
But something is different this time. Poppy’s parents have been arguing about their next stop, a beautiful house in California that seems familiar—almost lived in. Poppy is almost 18, and the end of her high school career convinces her parents to allow her to enroll in a summer school program where she finds not only romance but also crumbs that lead her to the truth of why she’s been forced to live like a fugitive for as long as she can remember.
Marit Weisenberg hits the ball out of the park in This Golden State, her fourth YA novel. She mines the depths of what a young adult novel can encompass, building to a catharsis so satisfying, you could end the drought in California with the tears you’ll cry. The book transforms as you read, revealing layers that include a twisting, high-wire crime thriller, a sensual teen romance and, most significantly, a story about finding your place in your family.
Weisenberg must unravel a truly scandalous yarn to explain what the Winslows did that led them to such an isolated life, but she never sensationalizes or romanticizes their circumstances. On the contrary, their life is awful. Poppy imagines her parents being swept away in a sting operation, leaving her and her little sister behind, abandoned, and her visions lead to panic attacks. What would she do if that happened? What could she do? If she could just know the truth . . .
Yes, a secret of epic proportions does lurk in Poppy’s family’s past, and it’s fun for the reader to find clues and untangle the mystery with her. But it’s the gentle and then brutal heartache that Weisenberg crafts perfectly alongside it that sets This Golden State apart. This is a story about human people, not true-crime caricatures.
“Life was better than any romance novel I’d ever read,” Poppy realizes as she begins living her own life, an unthinkable choice that violates every rule her parents ever made for her.
A Rapunzel-esque tale about breaking free, finding out who you are and where you can go, This Golden State shines.