Maureen Johnson is known — at least in my book — as one of the queens of YA romance: light, fluffy plots; high adventure; swoon-worthy romances. Nothing too heavy, nothing too dark … the perfect, accessible, fun beach read.
So, the plot of The Key to the Golden Firebird caught me slightly off guard. It’s darker than her other books: May Gold’s dad died of a heart attack a year ago, and she, her two sisters (one older, Brooks; and one younger, Palmer) and mother have been trying to scrape by. The Golden Firebird in question is her dad’s 1967 Pontiac, which has basically been sitting in the garage gathering dust since the day he died. May just turned 16, and the big event in her life is getting a driver’s license. But since her mom works nights at the hospital and May is at school and works during the day, there’s no one to teach her. Enter next-door neighbor and nemesis Pete.
It turns out that dealing with loss is a lot more difficult than any of the Gold sisters would have thought. They’re all dealing with it in different (yet all equally miserable) ways: Brooks comes home every night completely smashed and quits the softball team. May throws herself into being responsible and working hard at both her job and school. Palmer retreats into herself and her softball but finds it difficult to sleep at nights. It’s not until everything comes crashing down around them during the summer that they find a way to deal with their loss and move on.
This one is not as swoon-worthy as some of her other books, but there’s still much about it that I love in her writing. It’s funny; it’s full of characters you can’t help but love. It’s full of wacky adventures, misunderstandings, and times when you just want to hang people by their toenails for being stupid. It’s not my favorite of her books (that would be Suite Scarlett or Girl at Sea), but it’s definitely worth reading.
Rated: High for teenage drinking and sex — mostly just talking about other teens doing it.