Written by Wendy James — There are some pretty nasty characters out in the world. Hit and run drivers, hostage takers, robbers, serial killers, pre-teenage girls…. And yes, I meant to include that last category. Girls approaching their teens can prove a little unpredictable – I can speak with authority, because I once was one myself.
Meet Charlotte Mahony. She’s pretty, popular and butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She’s also a right little madam on the sly, getting away with all kinds of sneaky evil doing while her older sister Lucy toes the line and tends to fade into the background.
Charlotte, Lucy and their parents Beth and Dan live in New Jersey, but when Dan’s job sends them back to their native Australia it couldn’t come at a better time. Beautiful, popular Charlotte is at the centre of a scandal at school. A dare has gone wrong and a young girl is rushed to hospital after being poisoned by eating oleander leaves.
Charlotte protests her innocence but the damage has been done and it is with some relief that the Mahonys set off for Oz and a new beginning. The girls aren’t too happy about moving to the small town of Newcastle, but Beth tries to see the positives.
As she struggles to make their decrepit new home liveable, Beth clings to normality in the form of the blog she writes. DizzyLizzy.com has a small but loyal following, and through it we are given a rose tinted version of life for Beth, Dan and the children. Far more disturbing is a second blog, by an anonymous author, who writes on goldenchild.com. Here are the musings of, as she herself writes: “…a girl who knows how to get what she wants and likes to share.” Both blogs appear regularly throughout the book and add extra layers to a story that is both realistic and disturbing.
The family’s new start soon comes to a faltering halt when Sophie, an overweight girl with a prodigious talent for playing piano, becomes the victim of bullying at Charlotte and Lucy’s new school. Once again, Charlotte is in the thick of it all. It didn’t take her long to become a member of the most popular friendship group, and it is these girls who appear to be at the forefront of a plan to humiliate Sophie – with tragic consequences. Beth thought Charlottte and Sophie were friends. How wrong can you be? History is repeating itself and this time the Mahonys have nowhere to run…
Once more Charlotte protests her innocence, but this time the family is slow to support their blue-eyed girl. As the Golden Child blog becomes ever more disturbing, the Mahony family is falling apart at the seams. The story is told from a variety of viewpoints, including those of Beth, Charlotte, Lucy, Sophie and Sophie’s mother, Andi. Coupled with the regular blog entries, it tends to make the story a little choppy and disjointed, but don’t be put off and don’t take everything you read at face value
The internet plays a huge part in this book, almost becoming an extra character. Both Beth and the nameless Golden Child use it to let off steam, one of them creating a near-fictional world, the other hinting at things that are all too real. Bullying and its consequences are writ large here and its affect on the young and impressionable is both frightening and thought-provoking.
If I’m making The Golden Child come across as preachy then I’m doing the book a disservice. This is a tautly scripted slice of domestic noir which has some terrific twists on the way to a superb finale. How well do you know your children? After reading this book, you may well sit down and think again.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars