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Elsewhere, California: A Novel Paperback – June 12, 2012
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"Avery's evolution a black woman trying to claim her place is as heartbreaking as it is humorous, powerful as it is poignant, because Johnson so assertively confronts those complexities." Lynell George, The Los Angeles Times
"Johnson’s Elsewhere, California is a clear-eyed jam on class, race, and love; sassy yet searing." Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
In this debut novel, Johnson brilliantly knits the dual narratives together, maintaining a dynamic balance between nimble language and rowdy, vulnerable characters. The real achievement is the honest, compassionate, and unflinching willingness to honor teenage struggles for identity, confidence, and love while listening to Led Zeppelin and rooting for the Dodgers.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
Reading Elsewhere, California, Dana Johnson’s luminous, intelligent, linguistically dexterous first novel about growing up in Southern California, made me understand exponentially more about my own state, my own growing up, and the private lives of families in the homes all around me. An impressive, inspiring debut!”
Michelle Huneven, author of Blame
"Beautifully wrought. A contemporary Bildungsroman with a wise and winning heroine at its heart." T.C. Boyle
"I am in love with a woman named Avery and I have only heard her voice. She exists in these pages, radiates from them. Dana Johnson weaves the complex strings of modern identity into a tapestry that is both familiar yet refreshingly new." Mat Johnson, author of Pym
Dana Johnson's extraordinary novel offers an arresting vision of black female identity that transcends color and class even as it reveals its continuing power in our lives. The main character, Avery, is everything at once: struggling and middle-class, black and not-quite-black-enough, sexually invisible and sexually exoticized. Avery is about as complex and compelling a heroine as I've read recently, and Elsewhere, California is a luminous, funny, and poignant tale that speaks directly to a whole generation raised in a state of cultural confusion.”
Danzy Senna, author of You Are Free and Caucasia
I love listening to Avery talk about anything and everything, from the Dodgers to the art world to neighborhood negotiations to certain brands of shorts. Here is a character with an intensely engaging voice, surrounded by an equally riveting cast, all created by a writer who knows how to make words and people sparkle on the page."
Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Praise for Break Any Woman Down:
Dana Johnson’s collection of stories contains so many wonderful women. Living, breathing, making a million mistakes, but you understand every one of them. Sometimes you think your heart will burst, but the pain is illustrated with depth, clarity, and beauty.”
Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine and The Ecstatic
This is an exciting and gorgeous literary debut.”
Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man
You can hear Johnson’s voices ringing long after you put the stories down No character could stay a stranger long in this writer’s hands.”
Los Angeles Times
[A] sometimes comical read Johnson’s stories are ultimately bound by the human desire to find a place to fit in.”
Deftly achieves both art and amusement Johnson’s ability to coax the heart as much as the mind marks the author as a storyteller at her most potent.”
Whether its an awkward sixth grader with a crush, a pair of brazen Iranian sisters, or a male porno star who bakes a mean ziti, Dana Johnson’s characters breath authenticity. Johnson has got range and she’s got depth. A remarkable new voice has emerged.”
Dalton Conley, author of Honky
Rich, unhurried layering showcases [Johnson’s] larger themes Both hip and elegant, these assured stories simmer and resonate.”
Johnson renders with authenticity a range of ages, nationalities, and perspectives with a verve that leaves the reader wanting more.”
Janet McDonald, author of Project Girl
These stories are full of the small details and disappointments of life, the missed opportunities and the inopportune moments that change one’s trajectory.”
Johnson’s narrators are sympathetic and engaging A subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angelino life.”
About the Author
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Avery, a black child growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA doesn't exactly have the tastes that one would expect of a black child of the 70's, 80's. Avery is the main character of this novel, and her story is told throughout the book alternately by both her adult and child-to-adult voice. I think the objective of the writer is to examine and expose the boundaries of blackness and feminine identity. I mean, how often do we examine the ideas we hold about what is the "ideal" black persona?
Avery listens to music that isn't typical "black" music. She dresses in a way that is deemed different and finds certain boys in the teen magazines of her day beautiful and yet none of them are black like her. Her father even asks her once, about some of the posters on her wall, "Who in the hell are all these white boys?" Avery seems to be haunted by the expression of "she ain't really black." The child-to-adult voice seems to be constantly struggling against the "ideal" black identity.
So my question is whence came this push out of common definitions of blackness and femininity? The style of writing is luxurious, and the growing child/grown-up narrative mostly works and doesn't distract from the story. I think a little more background is needed on Avery, to help us understand how she came to struggle with her identity. That is never really explored, or hey... that may be the point of the novel. Do all teenagers struggle with how they fit in? How they should act and move through each day?
Ultimately, this is a well written coming of age story, with Avery trying to figure it all out and navigate stereotypes of blackness and woman ness along the way. A journey worth taking. I wanted to give 3.5 stars, but you have to choose, so I settled on 4.
Told in chapters that alternate between Avery's childhood past and adult present.
The present-day chapters are terrific. The writing is luminous. Especially vivid is Avery's relentlessly charming husband, Massimo. I wish the present-day chapters had been longer (and the childhood chapters shorter).
Initially the colloquial writing style of the childhood chapters was a bit jarring and, after a few paragraphs, somewhat tedious. I sometimes resisted the urge to skip ahead to the next present-day chapter. It grew on me eventually (due in part to Avery's vividly portrayed mother and father), but as mentioned previously, would have preferred shorter and/or fewer childhood flashbacks.
Still, Avery's story is well-told and well worth reading. Enjoyed the novel's diversity, and that Avery is an individual and not a stereotype.
I am not a baseball fan, but baseball enthusiasts should enjoy Avery's passion for the sport.
A story focusing on Avery's post-college life -- work, dating, friendships, adult identity, crappy apartments, struggling artist, etc. -- and her relationship with Massimo from dating to their present-day marriage would have been (or would be) outstanding.
The story is told in such a way that we are able to not only reflect back on Avery's upbringing but the woman she has become and is continuing to become. That is one of the greatest aspects of the book: that we can see the growth in her, the acceptance of what she brings to the world but also the place in which she finds herself as an adult.
There are times you will be frustrated with her. I know I was, but I also see that she is not only living the life that so many say they want for themselves but has overcome some of the very things that stifle so many. In the face of her triumphs there are also the trials, and that is what makes the story so easy to relate to as you go from chapter to chapter.
In the end I took from it that no matter where you live or where you are inside of yourself, there will be those who will try to define you by a location or a thing. You have to have enough courage in yourself to know that you were born for a reason and that reason is not contingent on where you live or what you look like. Avery finally gets it and you can as well.
Drawing you in with every chapter, ELSEWHERE, CALIFORNIA reminds you that no matter where in the world you live there are things that unite us and will continue to challenge us to be the truest form of ourselves. Definitely a book worth your consideration.