Sometimes the Barnes & Noble bargain bin is full of great reads that just need to be given a chance. Other times, the books are there for a reason. Despite its rating on Goodreads, I went ahead and bought California by Edan Lepucki to give it a chance. Read on to find out whether this was a diamond in the rough or worthy of its bargain-bin status.
In this book, which is set in the near feature, life as we know it is no more. The cost of living has risen exponentially; crime runs rampant in all major cities; snowstorms, tornadoes, and other weather-related destruction has eliminated societies in New England and the Midwest. Frida and Cal believe that their only chance for survival is by heading out to the woods and building a life in solitude. In their new life, Cal and Frida rely on the land for food, water, and other daily needs. But when Frida finds out that she’s pregnant, she and Cal both realize that raising a child in the wilderness may be more challenging than they thought. With this in mind, the couple travels to the nearest community with hope that they will be welcomed. However, after getting to know the people within the community, and the community’s history, Cal and Frida both realize that they might not be able to trust who they initially thought they could. From the Barnes and Noble description: “A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and deep-seated resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.”
When I first started this novel, I was unsure about Frida as a character and whether I liked her. I did have respect for her as she was able to create a new life for herself and her husband in the wilderness, but I think I grew to dislike her more as the novel progressed and she and Cal reached the community. I did enjoy Cal’s character as I think he was more thoughtful about things and I felt like I could trust him more.
All in all, I didn’t particularly enjoy the structure of the novel. While I could follow the time jumps between present and past, I don’t think they added value to the novel. I also didn’t like how characters would bring up food and certain things that were apparently nonexistent in the postapocalyptic world in which they lived. It just seemed awkward and forced. Also, there wasn’t a clear reason as to why the world turned out the way it did in the novel, which I extremely disliked. I’m totally someone who needs to know why things happened, and this novel did not provide any information.
I wasn’t ever sure where the book was going. Not like in a mysterious/thriller sort of way, but just that the plot was all over the place and I was never sure what I should be paying attention to. I was also expecting a bigger, more active ending. I don’t want to say anything else so I won’t spoil it for anyone. The ending just seemed to fall flat in terms of the action and plot.
To Read or Not to Read?
To be honest, I think there are numerous other postapocalyptic/dystopian reads that are better constructed than this one. I’d skip it.