When people have been reading for as long as I have, they develop a way of picking up books. They have genres that they like, certain writers they want to read again and again, recommendations by friends and critics or something as random as an interesting title that they must browse through. I use all of the above methods and they have worked for me most of the time. However, the only reason I picked up Golden Boy was that it was set in England and I like stories set in England. The writer Abigail Tarttelin is not someone I have ever heard of, the title was ordinary and the cover was okay but boy, what a book! I think it turned out to be the most profound read of the year – at least for me.
Golden Boy is the story of Max, a sixteen year old who had everything going for him, he was smart, popular, good looking, gentle, kind, good athlete, wanted by girls, respected by his mates, loved by parents and adored by his little brother. Life couldn’t be more perfect, but all started going downhill after a nasty incident, which made him realize that his life is ruled by a secret and how he must protect it to attempt to live a ‘normal’ life.
I generally don’t like books or movies that are centered on a family or push family values probably because I grew up in a country that is not too keen on individualism and the society presses on familial obligations a little too forcefully. The way traditional family is thrust upon us by popular media is also a major turn off but the way Abigail Tarttelin has woven this story – it is in first person by six major characters – is simply beautiful. Despite being a story of a family and what they had to go through collectively in the aftermath of a shocking incident, it is also the story of six individuals Max, his younger brother Daniel, his parents Karen & Steve, his girl friend Sylvie and Dr Archie Verma, told through their voice so that the reader is not influenced by just one voice and constructs and interprets the story the way s/he wants to.
I am not really a crier. If anything, I am one of those people who laugh at most inopportune times. My friends think I should not attend somber events and funerals because I cannot be trusted not to laugh. I don’t cry at romantic melodrama in films and find most of it cheesy, but I cried – cried a bucket load of tears – for Max the protagonist of this novel and one of the most endearing characters that ever leap out of the pages of a book. How can one not empathize with the Golden Boy who is about to lose his halo and has no clue how he has been wronged and he continues to blame himself for it all.
There is no verbosity or philosophical tone to the text, probably because most of the story is told to us by teenagers and a 10 year old, but there is introspection. And the characters – they just break your heart. I wanted to jump into the book and hold Max’s hand and tell him that he is great and wanted to shelter him from everything. How often do we get to feel that way about fictional characters?
The mastery of the writer is amazing, even when she is quoting stuff from Wikipedia in the book – and she did it twice I think – the heart of the story makes up for it. She wrote about Maltesers and STDs and autumn in the same line and somehow made it melancholic and heartrending. Tarttelin has discussed things like motherhood, loneliness, identity and the quest for someone of your own, the idea of ‘normal’, the insecurity of living under the perfect older sibling, the inability of parents to make decisions about their children, the fondness of an older sibling for the younger brother with utmost honesty. Above all, she has created a coming of age story like no other. She has created a world so real that you not just know what each and every one of them are going through, you actually get it.
I read Golden Boy in four days, could have read it in a lot less time but I took breaks in between to cry, to muse, to assess my life until now and think about the choices I have made and to wonder if I was in situations like any of the characters how would I behave. Yes, this book hits you so hard that you are compelled to pause and ponder.
The book taught me the value of empathy and compassion and how badly we need it without even knowing it. I am one of those people who give books to others – usually younger people – when I want them to think about things that I consider important. From now on, Golden Boy would be the book that I would recommend to everyone because we all need to open our hearts a little more, accept the other and unknown and just be gentle and kinder in general. The book affected me in a way very few things have; it made me want to be more open hearted, more loving and a better human being.
Way to go Abigail Tarttelin, you have created an amazing piece of literature that will profoundly affect a lot of your readers and you have done it at the tender age of 25. I cannot recommend this book enough; seriously, go buy your copy now.