This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg
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The Winslow family lives by five principles:
1. No one can know your real name.
2. Don’t stay in one place too long.
3. If you sense anything is wrong, go immediately to the meeting spot.
4. Keeping our family together is everything.
5. We wish we could tell you who we are, but we can’t. Please—do not ask.
Poppy doesn’t know why her family has been running her whole life, but she does know that there are dire consequences if they’re ever caught. Still, her curiosity grows each year, as does her desire for real friends and the chance to build on something, instead of leaving behind school projects, teams, and crushes at a moment’s notice.
When a move to California exposes a crack in her parents’ airtight planning, Poppy realizes how fragile her world is. Determined to find out the truth, she mails in a home DNA test. Just as she starts to settle into her new life and even begins opening up to a boy in her math class, the forgotten test results bring her crashing back to reality.
Unraveling the shocking truth of her parents’ real identities, Poppy realizes that the DNA test has undone decades of careful work to keep her family anonymous—and the past is dangerously close to catching up to them. Determined to protect her family but desperate for more, Poppy must ask: How much of herself does she owe her family? And is it a betrayal to find her own place in the world?
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Poppy’s entire life has been a series of new homes, new faces, new identities.
Even though her parents won’t tell her why they’re on the run, she holds to their rules anyhow. After all, those rules are the only thing keeping her family together. Through every move, every sudden moment adrift and uprooted, the Winslows have each other.
Except now they’ve moved to California, the one place they’ve always refused to go, and the place Poppy’s always dreamed of seeing. And this time, Poppy has a real opportunity: attend an advanced math class, not just another public school she’ll ultimately vanish from. The doors are opening at last, a glimpse of the world she’s never had.
But then a home DNA test kit changes everything. Long-buried answers lie within Poppy’s reach at last, but to take hold of them, she’ll have to decide if it’s worth the risk it poses to her family. More than that, she’ll have to decide if it’s time to make her own choices, even if it’s the thing that finally tears her family apart.
“You need to grab hold of these rare opportunities.”
Easily the thing I enjoyed most about This Golden State is the way Poppy tries to balance her family and the new opportunities that rise to meet her in California. On the one hand, her family is all she’s ever known. Risking their anonymity is nothing short of a betrayal, and worse, what if it cuts her off from her parents and her little sister for good? Whoever is pursuing the Winslows probably won’t concern themselves with keeping the family together.
And yet, Poppy is seventeen. Running is all she’s known, and when the chance to lay down roots presents itself, the pull is impossible to ignore. She uses her real name in class for the first time, breaking one of the oldest rules she knows. She finds herself standing out in class, to the point that the professor takes a genuine interest in helping her map out her future. Most importantly, though, she’s beginning to put together her family history despite her parents’ best efforts to keep it from her.
Poppy Winslow is lonely but cautious, anxious but curious, and her first hesitant steps into what normality might look like are so tender. For all the survival skills she has, this is a whole new world to navigate, one that has her somewhat out of her depths. She explores it all the same, though, and I love watching her decide what parts of her life are worth controlling, free of her parents’ careful influence.
But This Golden State sometimes tiptoes around real impact, failing to lend all of Poppy’s new relationships real weight.
Because Poppy tries so hard to keep her peers at arm’s length, there’s a distance throughout the book that’s hard to shape. While I loved her journey toward becoming her own person, I couldn’t help but feel some frustration. I want to root for this girl, want her to make a life she feels safe and secure in, but her connections are still so flimsy.
Sure, it makes sense. There’s good reason for her to withhold trust from others. And yet I feel like this would have been so much more impactful with greater bonds. Not just with her love interest, who helps her fit together the pieces of her family history. I wish she’d been more willing to connect with her professor, who only wants to see her succeed, and some of the other kids in her class, who could provide friendship and support of different varieties.
I suppose it frustrates me that the one to break down Poppy’s walls is a love interest rather than multiple people. His support is a value first connection to the outside world, but it’s only one single thread. I can’t help but wonder about the aftermath of the book, if that thread will be strong enough to help keep Poppy afloat, or if it will snap from being the only source of support.
This is a book for lovers of a quiet mystery.
No murders, no gratuitous violence, no hardboiled detectives. It’s just one girl caught up in a lifetime of secrets, at last getting a real glimpse of what the world could be like. It’s a personal kind of mystery, but also one that reaches beyond Poppy’s life in ways that may always be a little hard to fully understand. And while I may have felt as though some elements were missing, elements that would have crafted better tension and suspense, it’s equally possible that perhaps this is just not my kind of mystery, and it will suit another reader without any trouble at all.
And if that reader is you, good news! This Golden State hit shelves at the beginning of March, so you can explore Poppy’s story at your leisure.
CW: smoking, implied child abuse, loss of a loved one, violence (including gun violence), suicide, drug use