Elsewhere, California

Elsewhere California We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson s award winning collection Break Any Woman Down As a young girl she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a gen

  • Title: Elsewhere, California
  • Author: Dana Johnson
  • ISBN: 9781582437842
  • Page: 469
  • Format: Paperback
  • We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson s award winning collection Break Any Woman Down As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a gentrified existence in suburban West Covina This average life, filled with school, trips to 7 Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family outings to Dodger Stadium,We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson s award winning collection Break Any Woman Down As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a gentrified existence in suburban West Covina This average life, filled with school, trips to 7 Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family outings to Dodger Stadium, is soon interrupted by a past she cannot escape, personified in the guise of her violent cousin Keith.When Keith moves in with her family, he triggers a series of events that will follow Avery throughout her life to her studies at USC, to her burgeoning career as a painter and artist, and into her relationship with a wealthy Italian who sequesters her in his glass walled house in the Hollywood Hills The past will intrude upon Avery s first gallery show, proving her mother s adage Every goodbye aint gone The dual narrative of Elsewhere, California illustrates the complicated history of African Americans across the rolling basin of Los Angeles.

    One thought on “Elsewhere, California”

    1. Three and 3/4 stars. Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are. Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and West Covina, grows into a university-educated artist, marries a very successful Italian immigrant businessman, and comes to live in the Hollywood Hills, while staying in touch with her white wild-child girlhood best friend Brenna and a ne’er-do-well cousin. Alternating chapters flash back to her childhood, episodes that illustrate the rural simp [...]

    2. Dana Johnson lived in the same LA County suburb I grew up in, and went to the same middle school, high school and college I attended. This novel is the coming-over-age story I doubt I'll ever have the courage to write, about growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, negotiating race and identity in a very particular socioeconomic space, and discovering one's voice through art. It is beautifully written and full of such perfect descriptions of place that I felt homesick throughout. The narrator Avery [...]

    3. 3.5 starsSo, let me say that, initially, the language threw me off so badly that I thought about putting the book down. Then I remembered that I spoke exactly the way Avery did when I was a child. Damn. Suddenly, I realized that I had a bit more in common with this character than I'd assumed. We both had life experiences that resulted in transitions in character that manifested in our speech, primarily. This caused an immediate frisson in our connection with our families, but we still managed to [...]

    4. Probably 4 1/2 stars, but I bumped it up to 5 because this book touched by heart. I really loved the protagonist, Avery, and her struggle to find herself, to be her own kind of black girl. This book has an interesting structure - alternating chapters from her childhood and her adulthood. Her voice as a child seemed spot-on to me. Avery is an artist, even before she knows it herself and I loved watching her discover that. Avery does not fit it easily anywhere - in her family, in school, anywhere [...]

    5. This is obviously a book about identity boundaries and over stepping them. 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 ofte [...]

    6. Voice and dialogue, got to have voice and dialogue, otherwise it's just a descriptive narrative and somewhere around the hundredth fluffy description and transcribed imagery I get bored. I mean I've read books that were all that, but they didn't grip me and keep me interested. I'll read a slightly less well written novel with a great voice and tight dialogue over flowery chit-chat any day. Thankfully this compromise is not the case with Dana Johnson's Elsewhere, California. Her protagonist, a yo [...]

    7. I had a hard time getting into this book. There's no plot, just a naïve girl growing up in Southern California. Yet, this is where I connected. I grew up about the same place, about the same time and also quite clueless, despite my reading and everything. It seemed to be trying very desperately to say something about race. That is front and center. Yet it doesn't go anywhere. The narrator ends up doing art, but without any guidance yet still "subversive" and full of subtext. The novel felt like [...]

    8. This novel reminded me of Zadie Smith's NW in a lot of ways. The relationship between Avery (the black protagonist) and Brenna (her white best friend) was reminiscent of the relationship between Keisha (later Natalie) and Leah in NW, and Keisha's transformation to Natalie was similar to Avery's changing voice as she becomes more exposed to white culture. Both novels explore expectations dictated by race through the context of interracial relationships and characters who defy cultural stereotypes [...]

    9. You’ve probably never heard of Avery Arlington, the protagonist of Dana Johnson’s novel “Elsewhere, California,” but you know her. She’s the childhood friend whose parents moved her out of the ’hood, and you never saw her again. She’s the awkward, only black girl in class. She’s the preteen who lingers at the magazine rack in 7-Eleven dreaming about being anyone other than who she is. She’s the college roommate or classmate who always looked and acted like she didn’t quite be [...]

    10. The pain of adolescence and that point in adulthood where we finally figure out who we are are woven together throughout this very smart book. Johnson nails dialogue, as her protagonist, Avery's voice goes from childhood in South Central to growing up in the valley to gentrification in the Hollywood Hills. But all of Avery's voices anchor us firmly in where she is at the moment. Johnson creates an overall personal journey for our heroine without losing tension or interest along the way.

    11. This book is all about Avery. It's one of the most character-driven books I've read in a while. On the one hand, nothing much happens, but on the other, Avery grows up, and we get to watch her change with every chapter. As a result, from a writer/reader perspective, this is a masterclass on voice and tone. But it's also a book about race. It provides a piercing description of growing up black in suburban California in the 70s, and what has (and has not) changed today. It's a great read.

    12. Each individual part was underwhelming, but as a whole, much better than the parts (good thing I did not read this in short story or excerpt form).

    13. An excellent follow-up to her Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection, Break Any Woman Down. For a full review, see my blog: thestoryisthecure/

    14. I was so amped to read this book when I first heard about it. There were a lot of moments when I felt like the text transported me to California with Avery's inner circle and to my own childhood which is so similar to Avery's that I think that's what really endears me to the book as a whole. Then there were a lot of moments when I was ready for it to end and getting a little antsy like a two year old made to sit still for more than 30 minutes. The best parts about this book are the characters. T [...]

    15. ‘Elsewhere, California’, Dana Johnson’s debut novel is contemplative literary fiction at its best. Leaving behind the land of opportunity story arc in favour of an alternate narrative in which the central protagonist, Avery, oscillates between who she has become and who she once was, Johnson creates a pitch-perfect world in which everyday racism, class issues and violence are salient tropes that transcend life itself. Drawing on a bewildering range of narrative mechanisms, this novel is fr [...]

    16. hcn/issues/44.21/up-thUp the road and a world away: A review of Elsewhere, CaliforniaREVIEW - From the December 10, 2012 High Country News issueBy Jenny ShankElsewhere, CaliforniaDana Johnson276 pages, softcover: $15.95.Counterpoint, 2012.Dana Johnson's thoughtful and affecting first novel, Elsewhere, California, is narrated by a girl named Avery, whom we first meet as a child growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the '70s and '80s. When her brother is threatened by gangs, their parents dec [...]

    17. I thought this was a great book that looked at the dichotomies that exist within us all, but especially African American women. We see Avery as she goes from a young girl that moves from the hood of LA to a suburb in West Covina and how she navigates where she came from, her interests, what she wants to do and everything in between. I did find the sudden switching between present and past quite off-putting initially, but didn't mind it as much as the book went on. It's interesting to watch Avery [...]

    18. Outstanding and a phenomenal coming of age novel. This work, as was stated by a previous reviewer, is an excellent follow up to Johnson's short story collection, "Break Any Woman Down." The Avery character is extremely complex, and deals with a variety of psychological issues that are dictated by societies dictating of who she is and who she should be and what Avery herself feels she should be, also, stemming from a societal push. The transitional passages between young/developing Avery and Aver [...]

    19. This book is very well written, voice changes as the main character does, and reflects that without being showy. This is more of a "quietly observed" collection of episodes in the life of Avery, as she ages from girl to woman, artist and partner to a wealthy Hollywood Hills attorney who is first-generation Italian. The pleasure is in the voice and seeing how Avery relates to the various people and situations in her life, where she often seems to not quite fit in with wherever she happens to be. [...]

    20. Avery is a stranger to me. Her rough upbringing, her cultural-identity issues, the traumas of her friends and family and the contrast with her later ultra-posh life; these all seemed like fairly extreme situations, which I couldn't easily relate to. But she is a complicated character with a compelling narrative voice, and I kept turning the pages, wanting to know more.If I have any complaint, it is the gaps in the story. Though it works well to flip back and forth between the past and the presen [...]

    21. I think Johnson's work in capturing the experience of being an African-American girl growing up in the largely white LA suburbs in the 70s is powerful and important, but hard to read. I really felt for the protagonist, Avery, who was almost stuck in two different worlds and whose white peers and surrounding white culture nearly succeeded at alienating her from her own blackness. Though technically "successful" as an adult (Avery graduated from college and made it out of poverty), it was still sa [...]

    22. Started slow but was really good book. I could really relate to main characters' experience trying to fit into a society. The main character tried to live in two worlds. There is the world with her family including her cousin and the world dominant culture where she is trying to fit. The saddest part of the book was the trip to Palm Springs. The other girls didn't seem to care about her as a human being at all. They didn't even care or realize they went to bed and locked her out of the house. Th [...]

    23. Read this in our bookclub. We haven't hit winners lately, but this one is a classic. It is easy to read, yet profound in many ways. The theme is poverty vs wealth and the attitudes one learns as part of one or the other while growing up. It is well written with poignant vignettes of the poor to rich protagonist's (a woman) life. She got into USC because of the program for the disadvantaged students. The book clearly depicts why we need these kinds of programs, even if the right is always against [...]

    24. Wonderfully written by Dana Johnson - I wanted to read more about Avery and her transition from a poor girl living at 80th and Vermont in Watts to West Covina to her glamorous home in the Beverly Hills in Massimo's house. Gorgeously written! The fascinating linguistic changes that Avery goes through from chapter to chapter. A wonderful Bildungsroman for anyone growing up in the 80s/90s culture of North America. I think this is a book I'll come back to over and over again.

    25. I enjoyed the read and the jumping back and forth between present and past was a nice dynamic in which the author was able to show the growth and development of Avery. The backdrop of LA and the heroine's upbringing were well written. The only reason for not having a higher rating is because the climax did not get me wondering about how/if it was going to be resolved - it just seemed like one more event in her life (which maybe was the author's point).

    26. I loved this book! I love Avery Arlington! Great coming of age and self identity/exploration story. The writing Definitely reminds me of the profound simplicity of authors like Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver. Also as someone who grew up in LA I appreciate how spot on she is with the USC characters and the dynamics between black, white, and (briefly) Mexican children and the imagery of the 80s.

    27. The narrative travels back and forth through the protagonist's life (early childhood/childhood/adolescence to present day). The writing is well done and reflects the narrator's voice at that part of her life so it was interesting to see it grow and change. The story itself was fine - a coming of age for a young black girl in a southern California suburb, but I'm not completely satisfied. Maybe that's ok, maybe the main character is, in fact, unfinished.

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