When Mike Gold has a heart attack and dies in his 1967 Firebird, the car sits in the family garage untouched for a year. May, Brooks, and Palmer Gold--all teenage girls in what May calls the "Tall, Blond, and Wonderful Family"--suffer from neglect as well when their mother goes to work overtime at the hospital to pay the bills. The three girls deal with their father's death in different ways: Brooks quits softball and starts drinking, Palmer ferociously focuses on pitching and TV, hiding her panic attacks from everyone, and May tries to keep the family together. As the family unravels, the Firebird endures. Palmer uses the back seat as a place to escape, Brooks takes it out for a spin when she's drunk (and gets arrested), and for the grand finale, the three girls take the battleship-sized car to Camden Yards to throw their father's ashes on the pitcher's mound. Fortunately, this is the act that allows the girls to start anew, like the phoenix rising.
Readers will appreciate the character of the only really steady force in this novel--the frizzy-haired, wonderfully goofy Pete Camp, May's one-time nemesis who ends up helping out the family and ultimately winning her heart. As engaging, wryly funny, and issue-rich as Ann Brashares's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Maureen Johnson's The Key to the Golden Firebird will no doubt appeal to a similar audience of teens dealing with their budding sexuality, peer pressure, and much, much more. (Ages 12 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–Poignant and laced with wry humor, this novel follows the Gold sisters as they cope with their father's sudden death from a heart attack. While their mother works overtime to keep them afloat financially, the three teens cope in their own way–often with disastrous results. The focus is on May, the studious, steady middle sister, who tries to hold the family together even as she is going to pieces on the inside. She is falling for Pete, a neighbor she has grown up with, but is afraid to admit it even to herself, so she watches in agony as he dates her coworker at a coffee shop. Palmer, the youngest, begins to have panic attacks. Brooks, the oldest, quits the softball team, gets drunk on a regular basis, and makes plans to have sex with her not-quite-boyfriend. Set in a suburb of Philadelphia, the novel revolves around baseball and the father's Pontiac Firebird, which serves as a haven for one of the girls, a means to rebel for another, and an important part of the healing process for all three. This is a wonderfully moving and entertaining novel full of authentic characters and emotions.–Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
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