by Francine Prose
(Harper, $24.95)

A novel that opens with a death in the family can easily go wrong, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. When a high school senior drowns at the outset of Francine Prose’s latest, a reader can’t help but worry that mawkishness lies ahead. But Prose is too perceptive a writer to write a slack book, even when she starts with a commonplace premise. Goldengrove “blossoms” into a “rich, tart, eye-opening” account of how the world looks to a 13-year-old girl who’s just lost her only sister. One of Prose’s saving talents is that “she allows her characters to display senses of humor,” said Jessica Treadway in The Boston Globe. When the narrator’s mother emerges briefly from a post-funeral, pill-popping haze, for instance, we’re informed that “Mom’s spaceship [has] docked momentarily on Planet Dinner Table.” Tensions heighten when Prose’s winsome protagonist is drawn into a creepy alliance with her deceased sister’s boyfriend, said Heller McAlpin in the Los Angeles Times. But Prose’s main concern remains universal—how a young woman’s identity can emerge “out of the painful passing of innocence and youth.,