Rating: 4.5 / 5
Arbor Valley is a small Michigan town where everyone knows everyone else, so it is no surprise when a scandal shakes the town to its very core. High school math teacher TJ Hill was found at night in his car with 17-year-old Morgan, one of his students. TJ is married, and has staunchly claimed that Morgan has been obsessed with him, and Morgan has so far been uncooperative with officials, as she firmly believes TJ loves her and their relationship has the ability to weather the scandal. The Whole Golden World is told from the perspectives of Morgan’s mother Dinah, Morgan, TJ, and TJ’s wife Rain, and explores family dynamics, love, loyalty, and deceit.
The student-teacher affair is pretty much ripped from the headlines, and while it is wildly inappropriate and criminal, The Whole Golden World digs deep into the subject to tackle the affair itself, and the stunning repercussions the affair had on the student’s and the teacher’s relationships. The best part of The Whole Golden World is Riggle’s ability to make the reader understand each character. While Morgan continually makes bad choices, it is not all her fault. She has always been expected to act wiser beyond her years, and as the elder sibling with two special-needs twin younger brothers, Morgan has never felt that she has gotten any individual attention from either one of her parents. Thus, it is believable that she feels that at 17, she is an adult and can make adult decisions and be in an adult relationship. However, the truth is that she is only 17, and has not developed the capacity to look beyond herself and understand that the relationship with her calculus teacher is inappropriate. Morgan also fails to take into account the consequences the affair has on her mother, who owns a local coffee shop, her father, the assistant principal of the school, and her two younger brothers.
In contrast to Morgan is TJ’s wife, Rain. She is completely blindsided by the affair, lost in her own world of trying to become a mother. Her marriage has become collateral damage in the affair, but instead of being knocked down, she realizes she has the strength and resolve to weather the storm and carry on with her life.
The Whole Golden World is a thought-provoking read. Without a second thought, people are inclined to point fingers and lay blame when a student-teacher relationship comes to light, but Riggle does more than assign fault; she unpacks and dissects the relationship and makes the reader understand the actions and consequences of those affected. This is the first book I’ve read by Riggle but my TBR stack has just grown with her previous novels added to the list.