Tuesday, February 4, 2014

book review: The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

The backstory: The Last Days of California is Mary Miller's debut novel.

The basics: Jess is fifteen and on a road trip from Montgomery, Alabama with her pregnant seventeen-year-old sister Elise, her evangelical father, and her mother. The family is heading to California because the rapture is coming in a matter of days.

My thoughts: The thought of being fifteen on a road trip with my older sister and parents is enough to make me feel claustrophobic in reminiscence (I'm sort of kidding--I don't have an older sister.) It's not a situation I would necessarily choose to immerse myself in, but from the moment I started The Last Days of California, I was hooked and didn't want to leave this journey.

Miller is an intriguing writer. This novel has dark humor in some unexpected places:
"Molly Ringwald was never pretty enough to be a leading lady, but the eighties were a dream world in which the captain of the football team would leave the homecoming queen for an awkward red-haired girl who made her own clothes."
This passage appealed to me as both a child of the 1980's and as a window into how a contemporary fifteen-year-old would view the 1980's now. Miller captures both.

Young narrators can be hit or miss for me. In this novel, I found Jess's voice mostly authentic. At time I wished Miller would push her observations more, but it suited the narrative voice. At other times, however, I felt Miller take over for Jess: "It made me love them more because I knew the day would come when I would also be unrecognizable to myself." It's one of the novel's best lines, but coming from the mouth of this fifteen-year-old, I didn't quite buy it.

Favorite passage: "She gazed up at my father and he leaned down and kissed her head. Occasionally, I caught glimpses into their world and it bothered me that I could never be a part of it, that I couldn't know them in the way they knew each other. We all knew each other completely differently, in ways that would never overlap."

The verdict: This novel is strongest when Miller writes about the seriousness with humor and levity. At times Jess, a teenage narrator, was wise beyond her years, and it left me wishing I got to hear the rest of her family share in the narration too.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 249 pages
Publication date: January 20, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Last Days of California from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Mary Miller's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

1 comment:

  1. Ti raved about this one and I added it to my TBR list. Nice to see you seemed to enjoy it as well,


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