Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
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Touching senior-year novel encourages self-reflection.

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age 6+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While not an "educational" book, each chapter begins with quotes from Robert Frost's body of work, so younger readers will familiarize themselves with his poetry.

Positive Messages

Parker's story encourages teens to take "the road less traveled" and think long and hard about what they feel passionate about pursuing, not just doing what's expected of them. The typical type-A student, Parker has a helicopter mom who demands perfection, but in the end Parker wants to become a poet, like her father, instead of going to the college her mom picked out for her. In addition to the major themes of self-discovery and reflection, the book within a book teaches that life-changing connections can be made in high school, and that often an unexpected, last-minute decision can make a huge impact on your future. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Parker's super smart and does everything a star student should, but even she bends the rules when she keeps Julianna's senior journal. Still, she's admirably determined, sensitive, and kind, even though she lies to her mother several times throughout the story. Kat is an unconditional good friend, even though she and Parker aren't very much alike. Julianna's story shows how much teens want to be seen and understood even more than they want to be popular.


References to a tragic car accident that killed a high school's golden couple 10 years earlier. The accident and the deaths are mentioned again and again with one final explanation of that fateful night.


Although Parker is a virgin, she discusses her previous relationships and kisses, and in the diary Julianna alludes to her intimate, sexual relationship with Shane. Parker's best friend Kat has loads more experience with guys, and Kat's mom is described as basically the town floozy. Parker and Kat mention how attractive the twentysomething coffee shop owner is, and Parker has an ongoing crush on her friend (and school flirt) Trevor that ends in a couple of swoony kisses.


Occasional use of words like "bitch," "a--hole," "s--t," "damn," and a couple of instances of "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

High-school teens drink at various parties where adults aren't present. Drinking plays a role in a car accident.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Golden is a contemporary young adult novel by Jessi Kirby that asks readers to answer the question, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life." The main character is a straight-A senior, who jeopardizes her chances to win a local scholarship when she becomes obsessed with the senior journal of a student who died 10 years earlier. The story (as well as the journal within the story) features references to underage drinking (which leads to a car accident), sex (the lack of it and intimate relationships), and strong language (occasional "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," and a few instances of "f--k"). Overall, this is a book about self-discovery and recognizing what you're passionate about doing with your life.

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What's the story?

In author Jessi Kirby's newest contemporary YA novel GOLDEN, senior Parker Frost isn't just hoping to be valedictorian, she's planning to win the annual full scholarship named after the beloved couple, Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz -- who died 10 years earlier in a tragic car accident -- and head to Stanford University. But her plans to concentrate on the scholarship's essay are derailed when she comes across Julianna's senior journal, an assignment a teacher gives all his seniors and then returns to them a decade later so they can read what they wrote when they were 18. Since Julianna is dead, Parker decides to sneak a peek at the journal, which is supposed to reflect on the Mary Oliver quote \"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.\" As Parker keeps reading the journal, she discovers that maybe Julianna and Shane's golden-couple relationship isn't what it seemed.

Is it any good?

Kirby is particularly adept at creating central characters who have a lot of emotional issues to overcome, whether it's grief, or damaged parental relationships, or the longing of unrequited love. Through Parker and Julianna, Kirby continues to hone her ability to portray girls on the cusp of womanhood, girls who keep a part of themselves closed off and shut tight and in need of someone to see them, really see them for who they are -- not simply a straight-A student but a poet in the making, not just one half of the town's golden couple but a budding artist. Parker's relationship with Julianna (via the senior journal) is in a way even more intimate, more kindred than her best friendship with Kat, a faithful BFF but one who doesn't understand the personal crisis Parker is experiencing.

Readers who primarily want to read about romance should know that while Parker has a sweet chemistry and ongoing tension with Trevor, charming senior flirt extraordinaire, their relationship is a slow, slow build that takes a refreshing back seat to Parker's story of self-reflection. Parents may cringe at Parker's controlling mother, who wants to micromanage every aspect of her superstar daughter's life, but it's a good reminder that teens need parental guides, not dictators. One of the best parts of the book is how every chapter begins with a quote from Parker's favorite poet, Robert Frost, whose words will make you contemplate the joys of the proverbial "road less traveled."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the relationship between Parker and her parents. Is it healthy? Was her mother being helpful or smothering? Do you agree with Kat that Parker needed to do something rebellious?

  • Golden includes an epistolary story within a story. Which plot line and set of characters do you feel more connected to by the end of the book: Parker's or Julianna's? Do you think you would have done the same thing as Parker in keeping the journal, or Julianna, in hiding the truth?

  • Unlike conventional young adult books, Golden casts Parker's romance as a secondary plot development. Do you like that the romantic tension was there but not the point of the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and comin-of-age stories

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