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Title: This Golden State
Author: Marit Weisenberg
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2022
Page Count: 389
My rating: 4 stars
About the book:
Marit Weisenberg’s This Golden State follows a family on the run, a restless teenage daughter hungry for the truth, and the simple DNA test that threatens their carefully crafted world
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?
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If I could pinpoint the moment things changed, it was as simple as this: a high school library in Illinois, cozy, me working at a table with my science-fair group.
Then it was time to go.
The library was closing, so we cleaned up our scraps of paper and left behind the pods of tables and chairs, collected our coats, and exited the warmth of the orange-and brown-hued room.
“Katie! You forgot this.”
The second I set foot outside the library, my science-fair partner, Alina, followed with the registration form in her hand. I let myself be mesmerized by the color of her nail polish. Just for a moment. A sparkling, electric blue. Once I met her eyes, I’d have to lie.
“Take it!” she urged. “Me and Ruthie are all set. You’re about to miss the deadline, and we’re not doing this without you.” The last comment was nice and took the edge off her bullying tone. I gently took the paper from her hand. Alina was no longer trusting that I would register online. It seemed I was the last person at Lincoln West High School who didn’t own a smartphone.
Full of intensity and promise—the competition and the future hers for the taking—Alinaplaced both of her hands firmly on my shoulders. “Repeat after me: We will advance to state. We will advance to state.”
Ruthie, our other partner, sidled up to Alina in the doorway. “We will advance to state!” she chimed in and affectionately nudged Alina with her shoulder. I took in their happy faces and wanted in. “Come on, Katie! You’re too sweet. It’s okay to want to crush everyone.”
Maybe there was a way this time.
“Thanks,” I said and looked over my shoulder, as if there were somewhere I needed to be. I had to think this through. Maybe I could form an argument to convince my parents. No one knew who I was. They didn’t have to come. This couldn’t be traced back to them.
I knew we’d advance. That was the problem.
“See you at seven forty-five tomorrow? We need to work on the presentation boards.”
“See you then,” I agreed.
As I walked softly through the nearly empty hallway, trying to lighten the thud of my thrift-store clogs, I glanced at the questions on the registration form.
I should be satisfied that I’d helped Alina and Ruthie come this far. That should be enough. For sure, the project wouldn’t have been as good without my help. I knew that was an arrogant thought, but it was true. When I’d arrived in January, I’d lurked in the back of the science-fair meetup, where twelve kids worked on their entries after school. Then I couldn’t stop myself when I overheard Alina’s spark of an idea on desalination using UV light. If I hadn’t jumped in, Alina and Ruthie would still be fixated on their rechargeable battery.
I exited through double doors at the end of the main hallway, where glass trophy cases lined both sides, chockful of strictly sports accolades, so similar to the other six high schools I’d attended over the past three years. In Nebraska for 76 days, 108 in Missouri, 91 in Iowa . . .
In the horseshoe driveway outside the school, my PE teacher was juggling a Tupperware container under one arm while fishing her car keys from her purse. “Bye, Katie!”
“Bye!” I said, impressed she remembered my name. It made me feel a little bit at home and like maybe I could be Katie.
A French bulldog tied up to the bike rack growled low in its throat, indignant. I bent down to scratch under his smooth, warm armpits.
It was May, and though the temperature was brisk, the sun was still high at 5 p.m., lifting my spirits. I stood next to a newly planted tree, its light pink blossoms cheerily defying its scrawny stature, and watched for my dad, who was usually waiting for me. He’d pull into the half circle, I’d leap into the passenger seat, and then we’d begin the long drive home on country roads, letting loose for once and loudly singing along with pop songs on the radio. It was odd my dad wasn’t here yet. He had a military sense of time.
I froze. I had that familiar, spreading sense that I wasn’t alone and I was being watched.
Then I saw them.
They were in a different car—a silver truck—parked across the street where no one would notice them observing the front doors of the school.
I knew what it meant.
The school behind me moved underwater.
Usually I saw it coming. A month, a week, definitely a couple of days in advance. This one I hadn’t sensed at all. I thought for sure I’d get to finish the school year. Three more weeks with Alina and Ruthie and our project.
The wind whirled copper-colored hair in front of my eyes. I tucked it behind an ear, looked both ways, and made my way toward them, darting across the four-lane road. All around us was flat expanse, grasses waving in the wind. Half of the truck was on the road, the other half sagging into a ditch. All four windows were rolled down. I inhaled the fresh Illinois air and took a final glance at Lincoln West High. The bulldog was the only one watching.
At the car, I met three pairs of eyes, my baby sister’s wide like saucers. Mine came to rest on my mom’s beautiful gray ones. They were haunted.
“Poppy,” she said. “It’s time.”
This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg is a young adult coming of age with a side of mystery. The main character in the story is a teenager with a quest to find the truth after growing up in an abnormal situation.
Poppy has grown up with parents that love her but also with parents that lie to her every day. Poppy’s life has been on that is always on the move and Poppy learned at a young age that her parents are afraid of the law.
Now that Poppy is almost eighteen she can’t help but wonder what it is that keep their family picking up and running never getting close to anyone or settling anywhere. On a whim after the latest move Poppy submits a DNA test looking for answers as she tries to figure out what the future holds for her.
This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg was a story that I couldn’t help but become engaged in when I picked this one up to read. The idea that not only the main character but her little sister are living this anonymous life without a stable foundation was intriguing. I enjoyed that there was an air of mystery to the family and why they ran and also watching Poppy grow as she struggled with who she was and who she would be. This was the first I had read by Marit Weisenberg but I would certainly want to read more in the future.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
About the author:
Marit Weisenberg has a master’s degree from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies and worked as a film and television executive for a number of years. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two daughters. Her previous titles include Select and Select Few.