The first time I heard about California by Edan Lepucki was when she visited the Colbert Report. She was being interviewed about her sales since the plug Colbert made in a previous episode that I never got to watch. So as I sat there watching the video on the computer, I decided that I should check out the book. The thing that made me want to read this the most was that Lepucki mentioned that it has dystopian elements in it. Even though I’ve been a bit burned by this genre before, I do still like it so I really wanted to read California.
Now that I did, I feel like it is an okay book. Not good, not bad, just okay. I don’t think this will be a book that everyone will like and judging by the rating and reviews I’ve read, it truly seems like this is the case. There are some interesting elements at play here and I did like some of the plot lines, it’s just that everything seemed a bit bland. No, not bland. I don’t think that’s the right word to use here. It’s just…not what I expected.
California starts off with Frida and Cal living in the great outdoors. The couple moved out here after a flu outbreak and other things (that were never fully explained) left the world in chaos. The internet is only used by the rich few. Schools are hard to come by, since there’s no money for anyone, so girls like Frida are forced to not go and have her education limited while the boys still get to play. It sucks, but I can definitely see it happening.
In any case, the two leave the city and head out in the wilderness where they farm, hunt, go at it like rabbits, and enjoy life like the no one else is around. Because, there is no one else around. There was one couple, along with their two kids, but they soon passed away. Their only other human contact that they have is a travelling salesperson who provides them with goods for a cost.
One Frida becomes pregnant all that changes. Her need to be with others drives her and Cal to some spikes, where they finally meet someone who introduces them to their community. The more the young couple stays with them, the more they start to realize that something dark is amiss. For one thing, where are all the kids? And if Frida is pregnant and expecting, what will happen to her child?
Now, this does sound pretty awesome, and I definitely felt like some moments were. It’s just that, the characters of Frida and Cal were stupid. Neither of them grows as people and they constantly make the same mistakes. Cal had a hero complex, while Frida never thinks about what she wants to do. She has tunnel vision. Once she wants something, she’ll set out to do it even if she shouldn’t. Like at all. At all.
The thing is, can I really dislike Frida as a person if her character remains consistent to how she was written? Granted, I did like her chapters more than Cal’s, but she is stupid. There were times when I thought, why? Why would you say this when you know that bad things will happen to her and Cal…I mean, I just don’t understand her thought process. But she is consistent, which makes me wonder if I should fault the character when this was how she was always written.
I mean, we’re told that when she was younger she’d know her period was in when there was blood on her underwear. This would cause her to constantly buy new panties, because her period was that irregular. Only, once she starts keeping track of it she realizes that her period is actually on a pretty tight schedule and it never deviants from it. Most people, at least I’d hope most people, would have realized that after the first few times you start bleeding from the crotch, but not our Frida. She simply goes with the flow and when she realizes things are different, she just goes with that one too.
I could talk about Cal, but I mostly found him boring so….
I did like some of the plot. Even though it was slow, I liked the air of mystery and loneliness of the first half of the novel when it was mostly Frida and Cal alone in the woods. I know others didn’t, but I quite liked it.
I also liked the community and the leader. He wasn’t charismatic, but I did understand why everyone made him their leader and why he did what he did for them. The residents were afraid and he took it and made it into a town where people could actually function and not let the past take over.
What I didn’t like was the dystopian/post-apocalyptic aspect, only because I never really felt it or understood it. I don’t know why the world was destroyed or why resources and money was limited. There was a thing about a terrorist group, but even that wasn’t explained all that well.
Overall: I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I mean it has a lot of things that I like in novels, but some of the plot lines never really took off and I couldn’t stand Frida and Cal. By the end of the novel I was wondering how it was possible for them to survive in the wilderness for two years when it seemed like all they could do was grow beets.
But then again, Frida may be TSTL and Cal may be a boring person with a hero complex, but they were consistent with their characterizations. I dunno, I’m on the fence with this. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but it also isn’t the worse book I’ve ever read. I did manage to get to the end and even though I hated Frida, I did enjoy reading her chapters so I guess that says something.
California was provided by netgalley
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- Why to Read – or Not Read – California, by Edan Lepucki