Knowing my audience for this blog, I’m guessing a lot of you saw the Ford Audiobook Club grow on Goodreads late in 2014. At first, I was skeptical of the true ‘free-ness’ of the books. But I looked into it a bit more and decided to give it a go. When my credit card information was not requested, I was thrilled and happily downloaded the book for that month, California. I like having an audiobook on my phone to listen to while I cook or do house chores. I didn’t intend to get through it quickly. That became rough when this book dragged… and dragged… and didn’t go anywhere… So yeah, this will not be a positive review. Be warned.
California by Edan Lepucki
Summary from Goodreads:
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.
Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.
I liked the concept. So many dystopian novels published recently are aimed at the YA audience and Lepucki was trying to make it a bit more grown up. Cal and Frida have ‘adult’ problems. This is a great start. But I felt it fell apart in this book. The exposition was almost half of the book. Frida’s thoughts about the world ‘before’ and the deterioration of society took up way too much time and there was too much focus on Micah. (The rest of this paragraph contains spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.) I thought it made it way too obvious that Micah would come to play a role in the rest of the book so I wasn’t at all surprised when he showed up at the Land. Once we reached that point in the book, I thought something was going to happen; that the plot would accelerate. But no. It was slow and plodding again. I needed more action. I thought the end was disappointing as well. There wasn’t even a bomb to end the book with, it was just acceptance of a better life because there was no other choice. How is that an ending? Anyway, I guess you can see that I wasn’t a fan of this book.
I thought the secrets Cal and Frida kept from each other were very realistic. There are a lot of things I don’t tell my husband not because I want to hide them, but because he has his own worries and I don’t think they’re important. I felt that this came up a lot between the couple once they were on the Land. I liked their determination to protect themselves and thought it was believable that they seemed always on edge, never quite trusting. It was good that they didn’t trust the people at the Land because every five pages there was a new secret. I would have been angry if they did.
Sailor was my favorite character. He was so good-hearted and was being whisked along in a world where he didn’t understand what was going on a lot of the time. It was believable to me that he thought everything was for the best and going well while being kept in the dark about the true goals of the people around him. He reminded me of Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter; always blissful.
Frida’s desire to be accepted is a universal human need. I think we’re always hiding something about ourselves when we meet people and try to get them to like us before they find out about the thing we’re hiding. Then we hope they’ll still like and accept us when they find out about it. There’s a girl in my church group who had a child when she was 17. She didn’t tell us initially and we accepted her because of who she is. Now that we know, it doesn’t change how we feel about her because she’s not labeled as ‘the teen pregnancy’ in our heads; she is her own person. I don’t think there’s anything unusual in Frida’s situation but the stakes were a little higher.
I didn’t really have a favorite part of the book and that’s why I struggled with it so much. Everything seemed anticlimactic and slow. There were a lot of points where I thought it was going to start getting good and then would fall flat so Nothing really ‘favorite,’ just ‘better.’
The back story at the beginning was painful for me. I swear we heard the same parts of a story more than once without Frida finishing her thoughts. If this wasn’t such a mindless endeavor book for me, I might have given up on it.
The audiobook narration was a big part of why I disliked the book. My copy was from Audible and narrated by Emma Galvin. I’ve never heard her narrate anything before and I know this is harsh, but I might avoid things she narrates in the future. She was very monotone and her voice sounded whiny. She didn’t use inflections or voices for the different characters so during conversations it was hard to tell who was talking. My husband commented on how grating her voice was and then it was all I could think about. It sad that this was such an influence on my enjoyment of the book, but that goes to show how important a narrator is.
This is dark, but one of the biggest themes I got from this book is that sometimes love is a stronger bond than blood. (Again, spoilers the rest of this paragraph). Cal was always there for Frida and always had her best interests in mind while Micah didn’t. He was out for himself and you couldn’t trust him. He didn’t tell Frida a lot and many times deceived Cal for his own purposes. They never really knew him, but knew a lot of things about him, many of which were disturbing.
We’re stuck with our family but we can pick someone to love who might care for us more. You see this is adoptive families and close communities often so it’s not unusual to see unrelated ‘families.’ It’s just sad how Frida’s came about.
Writer’s Takeaway: When you hear the advice about back story, it’s always the same. “Don’t info dump!” “If you have an info dump, cut it and put it in Chapter 4.” “Start with action.” Did anyone tell Lepucki this? I see the merit in this advice very clearly after reading this book. I needed some action. This is a low-action book, which is fine, but the first bit of action can’t come half-way through the book. The pacing was way off and I think the book could have been improved with some crossing-out and re-ordering.
Really failed to excite me. One out of Five stars.
This book fulfills ‘The Future’ in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.
Until next time, write on.
Reading: “California” by Edan Lepucki | herewearegoing
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California by Edan Lepucki | Booking Rehab