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The Last Days of California: A Novel Hardcover – January 20, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Fourteen-year-old Jess Metcalf is traveling with her family across the country from Alabama to California in preparation for the Rapture. Her devout father is convinced that his family will be among the chosen ones, thus redeeming his life of sporadic employment and mounting disappointment. Jess’ beautiful sister, Elise, is openly rebellious, wearing her King Jesus T-shirt with micro shorts. Meanwhile, Jess allays her anxiety about the end-time by obsessing over boys, her weight, and her appearance, and by lovingly cataloging all of her favorite foods from an endless string of gas stations and fast-food restaurants. All the while, Jess keeps up an alternately hilarious and heartbreaking running commentary on, among other things, her parents’ flaws, which in no way mitigate her deep love for them; her painful self-consciousness; and her growing suspicion that the Rapture is not going to happen. In her debut, Miller captures, in a fresh and funny voice, one young teen’s simultaneous desire to both belong and escape. Sending up religious extremism in deadpan prose, Miller makes this coming-of-age tale work as both a poignant portrait of a bright but vulnerable teen and a biting social critique. Supersmart fiction from an arresting new talent. --Joanne Wilkinson


[A] terrific first novel…The Last Days of California joins a number of other recent novels written from the perspective of children or teenagers―Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. It’s hard to figure out why some are published as ‘young adult’ while others aren’t, but why worry about labeling a book this good? Just read it. (Laurie Muchnick - New York Times Book Review)

Hilarious and heartbreaking, dark and beautiful, a novel written by one of the most observant and mordant writers alive…This book is terrific. (Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination and The Giant’s House)

The Last Days of California is a beautiful examination of youth and family and what it means to be alive (and to fear dying) in contemporary America…every scene…tremble[s] with significance… Rarely, if ever, have we seen young American womanhood painted in such a raw and honest and heartbreaking way. (William Boyle - Los Angeles Review of Books)

The Last Days of California is the Sense and Sensibility of pre-Apocalypse America, and Jess and Elise may be my new favorite literary sisters: different as night and day, on a road trip to the Rapture with their Evangelical parents, they find they have nothing to lose but each other. Mary Miller is a ventriloquist of adolescent angst and a nervy surveyor of American culture. (Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers)

A coming-of-age novel for the faithful and the faithless―and anyone in-between. (Michele Filgate, writer and Events Coordinator at Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY)

Miller portrays her characters…with an unwavering intensity…. Miller’s prose bestows a magnetic beauty on gas-station bathroom stops, Waffle House lunches, and the cast of overfed, overstimulated travelers the Metcalfs encounter along the interstates. …A plangent portrait of American adolescence…. [She delivers] raw the heartbreaking futility of the Metcalfs’ small triumphs, private embarrassments, and poor decisions with such hilarious precision that you become completely involved in their struggles―and, ultimately, in awe of their abiding hope. (Catherine Straut - ELLE)

Miller’s depiction of a squabbling, love-you-one-minute, hate-you-the-next family dynamic is spot-on, hilarious, and ultra-relatable…. Sometimes a road-trip novel, particularly one as compulsively devourable as The Last Days of California, is just what you need to get that elusively giddy, hopeful feeling back. (Hannah Hickok - Redbook)

The Last Days of California…is the debut of a promising new voice, a voice that describes the painful longing for transcendence and connectedness with compelling vividness and candor. (Emily Colette Wilkinson)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; First Edition edition (January 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871405881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871405883
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By SCM on January 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I received an ARC from the publisher through Red Letter Reads.

I avoid reading author blurbs before I read a book, because I don't like carrying (more) bias into a story. So it wasn't until I put the book down and thought, "Well, that was weird," when I read the back and saw Ms. Miller is primarily the author of short stories.

Then it made sense. The novel, a coming-of-age story set on a road trip to experience the Rapture in California, reads like a short story stretched to the breaking point, padded, and brought into novel range. In a short story, it's fairly typical to be left wanting more (better to leave the readers wanting more, as opposed to less, of your writing), so that you muse over the story for time to come.

In a novel, it's flat-out annoying. This is a stand-alone novel (short at 231 pages in the ARC/it will be 256 pages when published) that will be priced at $24.95 hardcover.

Pardon me for being gauche, but for $25, I want plots resolved...without deus ex machina. I want sufficient backstory to explain the characters' action (or inaction). I want a few real showdowns between the characters who matter. I want real conflicts, real threats, real risks--not just angst.

And when I'm done, I don't want to feel like I just read a short story. This is supposed to be a novel that takes "up the mantle of Southern fiction." (The back copy.)

There was a lot of sister drama (the narrator's sister is pregnant, but drinks and smokes and doesn't subscribe to the family's faith), which--having had a sister I strongly disliked as a teenager--I could understand, but that conflict gets old fast.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By W Perry Hall on January 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
"Last Days of California" is a refreshing coming-of-age, road of trials novel. Comparing it to the work of other authors, I'd have to use, generally, Flannery O'Connor for hitting the South and all its contradictions and symbolism and religion and John Green for expressing teen angst in teen terms and in teen times.

Having lived in the deep South all my life (half in MS, half in AL), I can attest to Ms. Miller's spot-on depictions of Southerners generally and some evangelicals specifically. She's nailed their manners, customs, thought patterns, backwards logic and sayings. The novel though doesn't appear to bash in any unwarranted manner or by cheap shots, at least not in my opinion.

Ms. Miller hits on religion but she's not nearly as dark in her depiction as was Flannery O'Connor. But, as Ms. O'Connor was misunderstood and maligned, likely so may be Ms. Miller because she hits so close to home on a number of red-button issues. According to her GoodReads profile, she's from Jackson, MS : which makes her a bumper sticker native Southerner: i.e., a "Southerner by the grace of God."

Her protagonist, Jess (quite a telling name), is from Montgomery, Alabama. As a southerner, I couldn't miss the unique position of the song "Family Tradition" [by Junior (to Hank Williams, that is)].

Having 2 daughters about to turn 15, "Last Days" hit a little too close to home for me. I won't explain by giving anything away, other than to say that the symbolism throughout is almost too much. I said "almost.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Garbato on January 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

Fifteen-year-old Jess is trapped in a car, hurtling toward California – and eternity – with her dysfunctional family. Father John is a gambling addict who recently lost another in a long string of jobs; older sister Elise has just discovered that she’s pregnant; and mother Barbara is heavy into denial, too busy maintaining her family’s reputation to deal.

When some dude referred to only as Marshall predicts that the Second Coming is but weeks away, Dad decides to take the family on a road trip from Alabama to California, so that they can be among the last people Raptured up to heaven. Although this impulse mostly remains a mystery to his daughters, perhaps Jess is onto something when she thinks, “He always sounded so excited when he talked about the tribulations. He liked the idea of all the sinners getting what was coming to them.” Along the way, Dad hands out tracts and tries to save the souls of strangers from eternal damnation. But his efforts are half-hearted at best: as Jess observes, “He didn’t really want all 7 billion people on the planet to be saved. We wouldn’t be special then.”

Despite its somewhat quirky premise, THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA: A NOVEL is a painfully relatable story about sibling rivalry, sexual awakening, and finding your way in the world – you know, teenage angst at its most cringe-worthy. That special love-hate relationship called sisterhood (go on, ask me about that time my younger sis cut me with my own shoe!) isn’t relegated just to the back seat; we see them compete over boys (or rather their attentions), argue about religion, and come to each other’s defense as needed.
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