Kindle Dana Johnson î î Elsewhere California Kindle æ

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 KeithWhen 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 seuesters 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


10 thoughts on “Elsewhere California

  1. says:

    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 is the nerdy wordy blackgirl friend I wish I'd had growing up


  2. says:

    Three and 34 stars Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are Avery Arlington a black girl originally from South LA 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 simplicity of her Tennessee bred parents their work ethic hopes for their family and pride and the difficulties of escaping the constrictions of stereotypes The chapters dealing with her childhood are told in dialect inherited from her family but as the narration tracks her adolescence and adulthood the voice shifts to a conventional English as she learns to assimilate even while trying to find a balance in maintaining her own identity When Brenna objects to her listening to Michael Jackson Avery defends him “So I let him sing his song Maybe if he hadn’t hated himself for looking the way he did Maybe if he had someone telling him before earlier before he ever got on a stage something different about himself Maybe then he wouldn’t have tried to move bone and skin and hair into shapes and textures and colors that he thought made him better Or maybe if he just could have been all of that mixed up in peace weird and black in the first place I tell Brenna all of this as we’re driving down the hill” The younger Avery considers herself a master of blending in not making waves but as she grows up she begins realizing the value of unusual combinations of doing things in a wholly original way and that rather than trying to keep people and things in their own little boxes mixing thing up in life as in art expands their potential exponentially In keeping with her artist’s sensibility she knows that to know things as they really are one has to really look to really see and that the juxtaposition of disparate things and people and ideas can only have a liberating effect Through her art she is able to express herself as a uniue individual and resist the pigeon holing that society is all too ready to inflict on her as a black woman About Brenna she says “She doesn’t understand that she had a luxury as little as she and her family had She had the luxury of not having to listen to all the voices cousin Keith and I had to I didn’t think I could afford to ignore the voices They were everywhere all the time but I found help a place to put the voices a way to turn them into something I was saying back” Angelenos will enjoy Avery’s localized descriptions Her love for the Dodgers and Vin Scully are almost palpable and her descriptions of Palm Springs college spring break Woo hoo reflect a first time visitor’s common reaction to the stark beauty of the desert And for anyone who grew up in the ‘70s the song lyrics strewn liberally throughout the book are fun some of them bringing melodies into my head that hadn’t been there for years Music resonates throughout as do ideas about the complex interrelated values of different types of work and money commerce vs creativity race and class identity and conformity and the power of society’s expectations to shape us Avery is able to resist the voices that might have derailed her as they do other characters and to have the courage to be herself through her connections with family friends and the power of her art


  3. says:

    35 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 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 hold onto a level of authenticity with our friends Damn But this book gets 35 stars because it felt clunky I read Disgruntled right before this both have evolving Black female leads and it was so smooth Maybe it was this book's jumping forward and backward in time It could also have been that only Avery seemed to be developed; the other characters stayed completely put But because of the other points it still gets 35 stars


  4. says:

    Probably 4 12 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 except with a couple of friends who are as unusual as she is and with her cousin whose story is heartbreaking Avery is a California girl and this book is loaded with throw away cultural references some of which I'm sure that I missed because of my age But Avery takes them all in and combines them all to create herself and her art uniue and surprising I loved this book


  5. says:

    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 often do we examine the ideas we hold about what is the ideal black persona? Avery listens to music that isn't typical black music She dresses in a way that is deemed different and finds certain boys in the teen magazines of her day beautiful and yet none of them are black like her Her father even asks her once about some of the posters on her wall Who in the hell are all these white boys? Avery seems to be haunted by the expression of she ain't really black The child to adult voice seems to be constantly struggling against the ideal black identitySo my uestion is whence came this push out of common definitions of blackness and femininity? The style of writing is luxurious and the growing childgrown up perspective mostly works and doesn't distract from the story I think a little background is needed on Avery to help us understand how she came to struggle with her identity That is never really explored or hey that may be the point of the novel Do all teenagers struggle with how they fit in? How they should act and move through each day? Ultimately this is a well written coming of age story with Avery trying to figure it all out and navigate stereotypes of blackness and woman ness along the way A journey worth taking I wanted to give 35 stars but you have to choose so I settled on 4


  6. says:

    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 young woman named Avery screams dialogue and the narrative voice is incredibly strong Johnson brings us into Avery's world hard and doesn't let up We're allowed into a young woman's thoughts and fears in juxtaposition to her now today grown up still dealing with the sameness of it all Only her past won't let her move on or maybe she's too afraid to just let it go Either way her inner turmoil of making the change from her family's ideals to who she wants to be or at least sees herself as is the underlining current Then throw in never uite fitting in a sense of self hatred a bit of guilt the constant of racism and strangely enough baseball and you've a small notion of the complexity of Elsewhere California Not to sound horribly clichéd but Johnson knocks this one out of the ballpark – well written hella tight dialogue a strong ass voice that you'd have to be deaf not to hear Read it


  7. says:

    It was good I really liked Avery I loved her honesty and openness and seeing the world through her eyes She's a complex character and we see her grow so much throughout the book and I really enjoyed that I would say though that none of the rest of the characters grew or developed at all It didn't bother as much because the book really centered around Avery and she was a great character but still I also feel like a lot of the conflicts of relationships between people were left unresolved but even so I really liked the ending I feel like the last few paragraphs really brought it all together into something meaningful Also the place descriptions were really good and I got super excited seeing all the USC landmarks and experiences described


  8. says:

    Meticulously crafted book that interweaves past and present tracing the coming of age story of Avery a black female artist grappling to understand herself in a world that always seems to fit wrong This novel is a uick read but each scene each sentence is packed full of significance Like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen this is a work that manages to capture the nuanced experience of daily life in a racialized world while also destroying one dimensional categorizations


  9. says:

    I love the protagonist Avery Fascinating character with whom to explore the theme of shifting identity and traversing social worlds The writing using mainly two different styles one for her youth and one for her educated adapted adult self was beautiful Avery as a young girl's voice was so well wrought I did long for development of her cousin Keith after his key incident with Avery's bestie Brenna His life went off the rails at that point but we don't get to see much of that happening Still the story is a beautiful exploration of not only race and class but also the ways we become our adult selves the choices we make and the hand we're dealt how the littlest things or encounters can shift us one way or the other and how all these make us far complex than the category boxes on the census forms the stereotypes we put groups of people into


  10. says:

    i wonder which stater bros she walked to