Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: The funny thing about stop signs is that they're also start signs.
Mayzie is the middle sister, sent to private school because of her brains. Brooks, the oldest, is a beautiful athlete who's conflicted about her two loves: softball and Dave. Palmer is the youngest, tentative in all but her blistering pitches as the only freshman on varsity softball. Though very different, the Golds are sisters through and through.
When the unthinkable happens -- the death of their father -- a year passes in shattered silence. Brooks begins drinking, Palm withdraws, and May is left to fend for herself. She gets a job at a coffee spot, and hits the books. But the one thing she can't do alone is learn to drive. That's when Peter, her lifelong nemesis and all around thorn-in-side, assumes a surprising new role in May's life: he teaches her to drive, and the connection between them changes from childhood animosity to one that May can't understand, or doesn't yet want to.
As May slowly starts to pick up the pieces of her life, her sisters struggle with their own demons. The Gold sisters have been changed irrevocably, and they are all but lost to one another, until the key is found. The key to their father's Pontiac Firebird.
I have wanted to read this book since I heard Maureen Johnson’s name back in high school--probably circa 2006. I finally took it out from the library like three months ago. Of course, I waited as long as possible before I actually read it. I don’t get my deal sometimes. Whatever!
May’s father died while she and her sisters were out pulling a prank on their neighbor, Pete. After his death, May’s older sister Brooks turned to partying with a bad boyfriend, her younger sister Palm threw herself into softball and an empty television, and May completely committed herself to succeeding in school and work. Since it seems the only thing she can’t do is learn to drive, formerly-annoying neighbor boy Pete is around to help her out. When May realizes that she can’t hold their family together alone, the three girls come back together with the help of their father’s Firebird.
The Key to the Golden Firebird is very character-driven, so if you’re a plot person I wouldn’t completely recommend this one. Johnson’s story explores how three daughters, along with their mother, deal with the aftermath of their father’s death in entirely normal ways. While Johnson’s early novel isn’t the most memorable of stories, it’s a well written exploration of teenage loss.
I really loved May as a protagonist. With the protagonists I’ve previously read about in Johnson’s books (13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star) I didn’t entirely connect with them. Straight up personality-wise, May and I were similar, both being Type-A academically minded with a tendency to be prickly rather than overtly friendly. Her bitchy attitude made it so she wasn’t just a martyr figure, attempting to take care of the family whilst no one else cared. Even when her father was alive, she felt that she didn’t fit in their athletically inclined family. She was entirely relatable and awesome.
I loved the relationship between Pete and May. I found it to be fascinatingly normal--they grew up as family friends and enemies until Pete starts showing up more to help their family out after May’s father died. They had good, subtle chemistry and I wanted to see them work it out!
The Key to the Golden Firebird is a great read about grief and coming together as a family. Johnson created a great protagonist in May, along with a believably flawed/entertaining cast of characters surrounding her.
Rating: 4 - good!