It's June 2012, and Dinah is in a courtroom with her husband Joe awaiting the trial of TJ Hill, the calculus teacher arrested for having an affair with her daughter, Morgan. Seventeen-year-old Morgan stuns Dinah and Joe by leaving them to sit behind TJ at the defendant's table, displaying her full support of this man charged with criminal sexual conduct. When Morgan looks at Dinah, sitting on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom, her eyes are aflame with hatred and anger.
Rain, TJ's wife, sits in the courtroom, appalled at how haggard her husband looks. She is filled with sorrow that TJ's parents are not attending his trial. How could everyone turn against him this way when TJ says that this girl was obsessed with him and he did everything to dissuade her? Then Rain sees that TJ does not even glance her way; instead, he smiles sadly at the teenager he is said to have assaulted. When the clerk calls for all in the courtroom to rise, Rain remains fixed in her seat.
Meanwhile, Morgan has taken TJ's sad small smile to heart. He still loves her, of course. She knows that in spite of the situation, with the courts and her parents acting as if she is a helpless victim, their perception is not the truth. Despite the teen exterior everyone else seems to be so focused on, Morgan knows that she is a grown woman and they are star-crossed lovers meant to be together forever.
"THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD is a riveting and thought-provoking page-turner that will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult and Chris Bohjalian, as well as to anyone else who loves an involving read with a cast of complex women."
With the stage set and our curiosity aroused, we backtrack in time to the beginning of September 2011. Rain has just awakened with one thought on her mind: "Oh, no. Not again." She can hear TJ singing in the shower, full of enthusiasm for the first day of school, a year in which he'll teach a new and challenging subject: calculus. His energy is soon dampened by Rain's news that, once again and despite their increasingly complex efforts, she is not pregnant.
Across town, Dinah tends the cappuccino machine in her coffee shop. She's trying not to worry about her 14-year-old twins, who are starting their first day in the public high school. The boys struggle with subtle and not-so-subtle disabilities resulting from their premature births. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her honors student daughter, who always seems to do well.
Morgan, who suffers from nightmares involving a scar on her face, had quite a different dream the night before the first day of school. In this version, her best friend Ethan is passionately kissing her while her scar threatens to swallow them both whole. The dream makes her look at Ethan in an entirely new way. Now, with the first day of school behind her, she pours her emotions into the poetry she furtively pens. This outlet will stand her in good stead in the days to come, as she deals with a good friend hooking up with her ex-boyfriend, David, and a surprising rejection from another friend --- not to mention a crushing disappointment regarding her college choice. Morgan eventually finds comfort from an unexpected ally: Mr. Hill, her calc teacher, who offers his friendship when her whole world seems to be crumbling. Before long, that friendship evolves into something else entirely, putting Morgan, Dinah and Rain on a collision course that will change everything.
THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD is a riveting and thought-provoking page-turner that will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult and Chris Bohjalian, as well as to anyone else who loves an involving read with a cast of complex women. Readers may experience, as I did, that they can fully relate to all three women: the teenager, the mother and the wife. (In fact, I found it noteworthy that I so sympathized with each one of them.) Kristina Riggle excels at pulling us into her story, and then proceeds to immerse us further and further into these interweaving lives. The plot steps right along, and the conclusion is satisfying, with a final three sentences that chilled me and made me gasp out loud.
I adored this book and am thrilled that I've found a new-to-me favorite author. You can bet I'll be seeking out her previous novels and eagerly awaiting her next one.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on November 6, 2013