California by Edan Lepucki – no Calfornia Dreams here

20140822_104458I initially became aware of California by Eden Lepucki due to the massive media the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-buttonattention it has garnered.  Hard to ignore given how much it’s been talked about.  So I picked it up to see if it was worth a read and the story sounded interesting to me – Cal and Frida have been living a secluded life after leaving post apocalyptic Los Angeles.  However, when Frida realizes she is pregnant things have to change, they have to find other people and a more hospitable living environment.

Cal and Frida left LA after it seemed there was no hope for staying.  Food, homes, gas, any of the needed essentials were no longer easily available.  If they were, one had to pay for it in pre-melted gold.  They escape to the woods and come across a small shack that provides shelter and is livable.  At first Cal and Frida think they are the only ones in the area but they end up meeting the Millers, a man and woman with two children, whom they befriend.  Life is rough but good.  The Millers provide enough contact with other humans to make things tolerable as well as a monthly visit by a man they can trade goods with.  The Millers come to their own tragic end and Cal and Frida move into the Miller’s old home and life is still tough but Cal and Frida are surviving.

Things change when Frida realizes she is pregnant.  The need for better shelter, better food, and help with the baby come to the forefront.  Cal reluctantly agrees that they should go to the Lands, a place that doesn’t welcome strangers, and make a try to be accepted in.  Once Cal and Frida arrive and are able to make it onto the Lands, they are faced with many surprises as well as questions as to how this community is able to make it, where they get all the food supplies from, and if the two of them will be allowed to stay.

All of this is a good story but Frida is not a likeable person. She is self-centered and self-absorbed.  Frida met Cal when Cal was attending Plank, a free college for boys, and Cal became friends with Frida’s brother Micah.  Frida seems to idolize her brother and cannot see that he is really not a good guy.  Micah ends up getting involved in The Group, a seemingly terrorist type of group, and he eventually takes part in a suicide bombing that ends his life.  Frida never seems to get over this and Cal has promised to never talk about it.   Frida likes to keep secrets from Cal and these secrets make things complicated at times.  Cal does his fair share of secret keeping as well but he seems to realize that it’s better to share with Frida than keep things hidden.

The flashbacks that occur throughout the book start to weigh it down, just too many happen in the second half and it takes away from the main story.  The ending of this book was the most disappointing for me.  I can deal with books that don’t tie things up in nice pretty bow at the end.  Sometimes an ending that leaves things left unknown works.  The ending to this book was almost infuriating.  It seemed to just stop and left far too many questions about what happens up in the air.  I thought the ending was almost like a half thought that wasn’t expressed in a way everyone can understand.  Too much conjecture on the readers part is needed and that is far too disappointing.

Overall, this was an Okay book.  I liked the idea behind the story but overuse of flashbacks was frustrating.  I found myself skimming through a few lines since it didn’t really have an effect on the storyline.  The ending was the most disappointing part.  It needed to provide a tad bit more in order to be satisfying.  Unfortunately that did not happen.  Is it worth the read?  I think it might be.  I guess I’m a bit ambivalent about this book.  Good idea for a story and a strong start, but not a good ending and an overuse of flashbacks for me.