Long Lost Review: The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th July 2013Goodreads badge
Hot Key Books
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The funny thing about stop signs is that they’re also start signs.

Mayzie is the brainy middle sister, Brooks is the beautiful but conflicted oldest, and Palmer’s the quirky baby of the family. In spite of their differences, the Gold sisters have always been close.

When their father dies, everything begins to fall apart. Level-headed May is left to fend for herself (and somehow learn to drive), while her two sisters struggle with their own demons. But the girls learn that while there are a lot of rules for the road, there are no rules when it comes to the heart. Together, they discover the key to moving on — and it’s the key to their father’s Pontiac Firebird.

This is one of Maureen Johnson’s earliest books and it’s fascinating to see how far she has come over the last fifteen or so years. This was also one of the first books I read of hers and I’ve been on the Maureen Johnson train ever since. 

The story is about family and loss, about trying to recover afterwards but there isn’t a deep sadness about it. We see how each of the girls cope with their grief and the lives they’re choosing to live. The point of view changes but Mayzie is the main focus of the story for the majority of the time. Palmer got my sympathy because she was sad and often ignored, and Brooks goes off the rails a bit but there is a sisterly relationship explored throughout as they try and cope and come together. Johnson shows how May is the one who is trying to keep everyone together and functional and her stress and flustered moments come across really well. It was interesting to see it come from the middle sister and not the eldest as you’d expect. 

One thing I disliked was the May/Pete thing that Johnson had going, mainly because Pete did a 180 from being a horrible person to May for most of the novel that I couldn’t look past. It comes so out of the blue that it felt forced and throws you, especially coming from characters we have gotten to know for most of the story. The “romance” is probably the part I liked the least, at no point are we rooting for Pete at all since he has been so horrible, and the secret adoration isn’t something I’m keen to believe. 

I hate to say this, especially about a Johnson novel, but I wanted a little extra something to make it stronger. The story needed a bump, just a little one to give it that extra something and make it stand out more. There isn’t any real structure which lets you focus on the characters themselves and not a lot happens for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story, it was good, but I’d probably best describe it as a warm story – no huge moments or events but it was well told and nice. The good news is the ending brought everything together wonderfully which was quite satisfying and of course it was filled with Johnson humour which was an enjoyment level all its own. 

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