Review: California

By Edan Lepucki
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316250818, July 2014, 400pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

In a post-apocalyptic world, is there safety in numbers?

The Rest of It:

The story in California takes place several years after the world has gone to hell. Cal and Frida leave the ruins of Los Angeles to make a life for themselves in the forest. The city has become too dangerous for them and with resources being as scarce as they are, the forest seems like the only reasonable option.

But they are not alone in the forest. Close to them, is a family that helps them and provides the much-needed interaction that Frida craves, but when Frida hints at wanting to know what is outside of their immediate circle, she’s basically told to stop thinking about it. This doesn’t sit well with Frida. Especially since she feels that her husband Cal, knows who is out there and is keeping the information from her. To further complicate the matter,  Frida believes that she might be pregnant, which forces her to consider her options.

I live in California so this book had obvious appeal to me, even without the whole Colbert/Indie bookstore buzz. But I must tell you, as readable as it was, it missed some key elements to really make it a success in my eyes:

  • I didn’t care about the characters. I don’t need to like them, but I need to care about what happens to them.
  • Too much build-up over Frida and whether or not she was pregnant.
  • The secrecy of everything was overplayed. Big time.
  • It wasn’t clear to me who was good and who was bad. You’ve gotta have people to root for and they all seemed a little sketchy.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t bothered by the ending which is what everyone seems to talk about. I wasn’t surprised or miffed or even curious because I didn’t care about the characters or what happened to them. ANYTHING could have happened and I would have been fine with it. I wanted to feel something for these characters but they were either too weak, too secretive, or their motives were unclear.

I know this all sounds very negative but I do think Lepucki captured the isolation of the early days, pretty well. When you are living in what could be the end of days as you know them, you must have hope or things get bleak pretty quick. I liked the story best when it was just Cal and Frida. They don’t entirely trust one another, which makes their marriage rather unique but Cal seems cautiously hopeful about the possibility of a child.

That cautious optimism was enough to keep me reading but then something happened.

The story took a turn and then I was like, what just happened? I thought the story was going one way, and then it went a totally different way. Not necessarily a bad way. I was still curious at this point but then the characters got all weird and their motivation seemed weird too and I suddenly had no patience for any of them.

Does it deserve the hype? Not really. Was it an interesting story? Yes. Is it book club worthy? Could be. There is a lot to consider. Is it better to be isolated or part of a community? When the world is ending, is procreation important or is it a bad idea to bring a child into a world without hope? I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and when baby Judith was born, I was like… what in God’s name were you thinking? But at the same time, if you don’t populate the earth, eventually everyone will die out, right? So, this is an important question to ask but I am not sure it’s fully explored in the book.

I don’t know if the author has any plans to write additional books with these characters but if she does, then that may explain why some of it felt half-developed. If she does come out with another book as a continuation of this one, I’d read it just to see where she goes with it.

In the end, it was an okay read but it was fun to discuss with other bloggers.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

21 thoughts on “Review: California”

  1. Well that did not make me want to run out and get it! I knew you had misgivings though, and although its gotten buzz, it’s really not been overwhelmingly good. I’m putting it on my mental “maybe” list.

    1. The direction in which she took the story was surprising to me. As soon as the story shifted I was telling myself in my head that it was not going to be good. The writing IS good though. I mean, she can write. No doubt. Another reader just said that she did hear this was part of a trilogy although I am sure she did not write it that way originally. She probably decided to keep it going after all the buzz she got. 


  2. I did hear somewhere that this is the first in a planned trilogy or series. I have to say that I’ve heard mostly mixed reviews of it, so even though the premise sounds interesting to me, I’m not sure it’s something I’ll end up reading. Good review!

    1. So it IS part of a trilogy? I wonder if she intended for it to be prior to the hype. It sort of had a final feel to it even though the ending was questionable. 


    1. This one reminded me of The Dog Stars in the beginning, which was good. But the story takes a turn that I did not approve of which did it for me.


  3. Everyone seems to be raving about this one, so I’m glad you reviewed it – now I can decide whether or not to read it. I got a copy via NetGalley, but wasn’t so sure I’d get to it. After your review I think that I will give it a chance. By the by, how goes the Murakami? I really enjoyed it. I love how it felt like a Murakami book, but wasn’t a typical Murakami book. Can’t wait to find out what you thought of it 🙂

    1. Another poster just said that California is part of a trilogy but that is the first time I am hearing that. I’m not sure it was intended to be one but maybe with all the buzz she decided to add more books. 

      Murakami. I am reading this one slowly. That was my intent from the beginning but then I got hit with health stuff and could not read. I hate when that happens. I am right at the halfway point. It does feel like a Murakami but at the same time, something has changed. Almost like one of his  books where there is an alternate Murakami in here somewhere. 


  4. This book is too um, sci-fi, futuristic, dystopian for me, but the moment I realized that it was raining, I had to come tell you. It’s more than the fog of the beach, but not an all out rain, still baby steps.

    For some reason, I just can’t get into this genre at all. Even the YA blockbusters make me fall asleep. Anything set in the future is persona non grata here. Now, if we were talking Steampunk….that is the only sub-genre of Sci-Fi that I love and I just turned the rommie’s 12 YO onto if. Of course he is running around using the slang and slightly bad words of Steampunk, but since only he and I know…it;s safe, LOL.

    It’s RAINING!

    1. I got my car washed after weeks and weeks of dust and nothingness and I saw on the news that it might rain tomorrow. I sure hope so.

      The future. I am not sure that they even specify the year in California. It’s not that far into the future because she mentions shopping venues that are currently in existence now, like The Grove. That was kind of weird to read about places I visit that are no more. I wouldn’t call it sci-fi, maybe speculative fiction. They revert to a primitive means of existence which takes it away from sci-fi, in my opinion.


  5. Sounds like a book that fell beneath the weight of hype…I have to at least care what happens to the characters even if I don’t like them. Sounds like this one does not fit the bill

  6. I totally agree with you that Lepucki captured the early isolation really, really well. I was totally drawn in at the beginning and I actually did care about the characters at the start. But it just kind of fell apart for me after the shift in the middle and definitely by the last 50 pages or so.

  7. Aww, I think I will not read this one. I was really looking forward to it. I want to see more adult dystopia but this one doesn’t seem to be worth it.

  8. I took a break – mid way from this one as it wasn’t clicking, but I do plan to go back after my current read. Glad it wasn’t just me not overly impressed (thus far)

  9. I think what I’ve been hearing lately is about how you feel–not quite up to the hype. I think certain bloggers tend to overhype certain books…just sayin. 😉

    1. I think Colbert giving it the boost he did is what put it on everyone’s radar. Before that, I think it was a New and Notable pick for B&N or something like that. It’s just gotten really good publicity. It wasn’t bad, just not wonderful. I feel as if she missed an opportunity to really make it great. 


  10. I actually liked this one but I agree that it’s not worth the hype. I also heard it is going to be a trilogy … which is very annoying to be honest. I felt like it was almost two separate books, first the beginning when they were alone, then once it took a different direction it just felt COMPLETELY different. I didn’t dislike it, though. And even though I agree that all of the characters seemed sketchy, it felt authentic to me. Like if this was reality, if the world really did go to shit, would we ever truly know who to trust? Like a season of Survivor but for real. I don’t know. Anyway – I think I liked it more than you did! 😉

    1. It’s weird because I didn’t hate it. I just felt it would have been so much more powerful had she stuck with the small forest setting. They were so isolated there.  I am tired of trilogies. Groan. I’m sure I will read the next book though just to see how she handles that weird ending. 


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