Goldengrove, by Francine Prose, explores family relationships and how death can change roles and identities abruptly. Twelve-year-old Nico loves and admires Margaret, her talented and charismatic older sister, and is satisfied hanging back and playing a secondary role while Margaret shines. This is Nico’s place in their family and around everyone they know. But when Margaret drowns in a lake near their New England home, Nico is suddenly plunged into a depth of grief along with her mother and father. The parents function, sort of, but cannot in any way manage to be the kind of parents Nico needs. Complicating the situation is the enigmatic Aaron, Margaret’s artist boyfriend, who finds some degree of solace in sharing his memories with Nico, but who is deeply troubled and self-centered. As Nico realizes she is emotionally on her own, she begins to value herself and find a new way to be, in a world forever changed by loss.
This is a coming of age story that will appeal to both adults and teens. Told from the point of view of Nico, it is realistic about death without taking an overly tragic or melodramatic tone.