Set in New Jersey in 1980, the story is that of seventeen-year-old Edna, an only child whose mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized in New York City. Edna can't (or won't) visit her mother, with whom she fought shortly before the diagnosis was revealed. She can't get that unfinished fight out of her head and feels guilty, as though her words caused the illness. As Edna pulls away from her father, she falls for her sculpture teacher, a married man in his early thirties who "sees beauty in things that other people take for granted," including her. Edna keeps their developing relationship a secret as she continues her day-to-day routine, attending school and working at a pharmacy where she occasionally steals objects and works for a middle-aged man who thinks he looks like Elvis Presley.
Though Edna is initially consumed by her relationship with Mr. Howland, the story becomes more layered as time goes on, especially with revelations related to her family's past. Her parents insist that she begin seeing a therapist, so she does, but she still can't manage to visit her mother. In one memorable scene, she and her father set out for the hospital, but Edna gets physically ill to the point that they must make multiple stops, then ultimately turn around and head home.
Told in vignettes titled after the locations or goings-on ("Another Night at the Pharmacy," "A Party at Patty's House"), with realistic references to the time period (the music of Bruce Springsteen, the aftermath of the Vietnam War), this coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson as well as those who lived through the actual era and/or read young adult fiction written in the eighties.
I am seventeen years old and my mother who might be dying always says I am the center of her universe. She says that everything in the world revolves around me, but I disagree. Lately I feel like an astronaut out on a space walk -- constantly praying the tube attaching me to the ship doesn't snap and send me flying into outer darkness.
Favorite Passages and Vignettes
My School, pages 20-23 (the state of the world on page 23)
The Gold Chair, Again, pages 98-101 (origin of the novel's title on page 100)
I also reviewed this book (alongside Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell) for SparkLife and included it in my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.