Title: The Great Godden
Author: Meg Rosoff
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Teen
We Were Liars meets Call Me By Your Name in this lyrical and quintessential coming-of-age tale about a summer when everything changes, from Meg Rosoff, bestselling author of the iconic novel How I Live Now.
This is the story of one family, one dreamy summer. . . . In a holiday house by the sea, our watchful narrator sees everything, including many things they shouldn’t, as their brother and sisters, parents and older cousins fill hot days with wine and games and planning a wedding. Enter two brothers: irresistible, charming, languidly sexy Kit and surly, silent Hugo. Suddenly there’s a serpent in this paradise — and the consequences will be devastating.
The Great Godden left me with mixed feelings. I waffled on what to write about it for a while because the narration was so beautiful and unique, but the overall story was something I wasn’t that into, if that makes any sense. Let me break it down.
The main character is never named, gendered, or given an age, which gave the narration a sort of distant feeling. They’re the eldest sibling though and more of an observer than someone who jumps into the spotlight. These are important to take into consideration later.
The author definitely nailed the sibling relationship with this family – thoughts of comparison, the understanding that sometimes we only know two or three things that define our siblings as humans. I definitely related to how the MC observed and interacted with their siblings for the most part – everyone had their thing and they only interacted when necessary.
That being said, with some situations, I found it weird that the MC never felt the need to try to mediate or intervene in any way. They just stayed out of it all and kind of watched (and slightly participated in) a train wreck. Again, not necessarily unrealistic, but it surprised me how clinically everything was processed through the MC’s POV, but there was also little self-reflection on their part. Even when they were angry, it didn’t really come through in the narration except for what we’re told and I kind of liked it and didn’t at the same time?? Definitely an interesting writing choice on the author’s part.
There were two lines that I really hated. I felt they were insensitive and unnecessary. I think it’s important to point them out so other readers aren’t surprised by them like I was:
“If only I could remain among you gorgeous friends instead of flying off to Hungary,” she said, infecting “Hungary” with the same enthusiasm you might normally save for “Pyongyang”
This is a negative statement, implying Korea is not a desirable destination, and it was jarring to read that, especially as an East-Asian. It hit me as a comparison that seemed unnecessary and hurtful to make. I even tried to reconcile it in my head and wondered if it was meant as a positive thing, but the context just doesn’t lend itself to such a reversal.
No one else went clear, so there was no jump-off, praise Allah-Jehovah-Zeus…
I didn’t understand the need to use three gods names in such a way, lumping together names people hold sacred in such a flippant manner – ex. I’m Christian and I would never holds God’s name at the same level as Zeus’s as I believe Grecian gods to be mythology. The character is seemingly equating them, but none of them stand equal in many people’s eyes and it’s disrespectful and hurtful to use the name of gods that aren’t yours in such a way.
All of this talk and I still haven’t mentioned the Goddens. I don’t know where to start. I was very frustrated with the ignorance of the characters, the lack of intervention of the parents, and the general way the whole situation was handled. Kit is all charisma and Hugo is recluse and unsociable, and how they’re integrated into the MC’s family is what leads to many of the problems the family finds themselves buried in later. However, I do think that because of the outcomes and the lessons taught and learned, this book is very valuable and important. One thing I liked (and again, also disliked) is how gaslighting is presented and explained in the book – I think if I had read this when I was younger, this would’ve had such an impact on my mental health and given me insight into some of the things I’ve experienced and questioned.
All in all, I did like the book for its lyrical writing and interesting narrative, as well as for the lessons taught and what it can teach readers now and in the future. That being said, there was some insensitive content, as well as weird moments that were uncomfortable for reasons I can’t really pin down (but that might have also been the point??). So, did I like it? Kind of, mostly. Do I recommend it? I think so, maybe. Inconclusive, I know, but I hope my review gave you a better idea of whether you want to pick this one up.
World Building: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.66/5
Book provided by Penguin Teen in exchange for an honest review.