The Golden Child by Wendy James

It’s not often I read a book that makes me feel grateful that I’m not young anymore.  I’m grateful not to be a teenager in the digital age, and grateful that my parenting of a teenager was complete before social media became ubiquitous.

The Golden Child by Wendy James

‘It could have been a whole lot worse.’
Beth Mahony and her husband Dan have been living in New Jersey, USA for long enough for their daughters Lucy and Charlotte (Charlie) to consider it home. So, while Beth is initially delighted when Dan tells her that they will be returning home to Australia, Lucy and Charlie are not. Beth hasn’t been able to work in the USA, and part of her energy has been spent blogging as Lizzy on Beth used to be a journalist, and this is one way to practice her communication skills.
But Lizzy’s online life and Beth’s real life diverge once the family move back to Australia. Beth had hoped that they’d move to Sydney, but instead they are heading to Newcastle where Dan’s mother lives. Beth’s mother isn’t far away either, and the prospect of having them both so close is not one that Beth looks forward to.

And then there’s the girls. Charlie seems the most upset about moving to Australia, while Lucy seems more accepting. The girls are growing up, becoming more independent. Just before they leave the USA, there’s an incident involving one of the girls. It has Beth wondering, but there’s so much to do to move the family back to Australia, and surely it was just an accident?

In Australia, with Lucy and Charlie in a private high school, in a big house in need of renovation, Beth starts blogging again. She enjoys the contact with her followers around the world. Beth’s thinking, too, about getting a job. The girls are old enough to be a little more independent, and Dan’s mother is close by. Beth has met another mother, and their daughters are in the same class. New friendships?

And then, just when things seem to be settling, the world turns upside down. A classmate is bullied, both in person and on social media. It seems that one of Beth’s daughters may have been the ringleader. What has happened, and why?

‘Nobody could call it bullying …’

The novel shifts between Beth, her blog as Lizzy and a series of posts on a website (known as GOLDENCHILD.COM) by ‘I’m a girl who knows how to get what she wants and likes to share.’ Part of the mystery is working out exactly who the Golden Child is. As the story unfolds, the claustrophobic world of teenaged girls with their rigid rules about acceptance and ostracism makes me grateful that these particular years are many decades behind me. The availability and use of social media makes it all so intense, so hard to escape.

There are twists in this story, twists which kept me wondering and reading. I found this novel absorbing, and confronting. Just how well do we know our children?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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