Backstory Book Review: Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson

My friend from the ancient history, Dr. Hoey, suggested I read this book. I’m not sure what we were talking about that made him suggest it, but I immediately thought ‘I hope it’s not one of those black-in-America books….’ I actually put the suggestion on the shelf for a few days.

Then I decided that I wanted to explore more writing styles and as much as I don’t want to read about racism and the black experience in America, I needed a perspective. And if it really came down to it, I could just stop reading the book. I mean it wasn’t like reading was a matter of life and death. So I got the book and I’m happy to say, I’m glad I did.

Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson

There is no easy way to explain what this book is about. It’s about Avery’s transformation when she moves from Los Angeles to the suburb West Covina. It chronicles the changes Avery undergoes after she moves , the effects of being different not only racially, but different from her family in her way of thinking. It’s about the effects of Keith, her ‘bad’ cousin, moving in with her family having on Keith, Avery and her best friend, Brenna. It lays out the struggle parents balance between wanting better for their children without losing a sense of familial identity.

I don’t dole out 5 stars often, but this book was fantastic. I could identify personally with Avery. Not necessarily just with the issues of my skin color. Figuring out how to navigate life with sincerity to self, but being cognizant of what constitutes that self. I felt Avery when I read the book, as if she and I were one. I’ll go out on a limb and write that this is the first time I connected on a real level with a character. No fantasies, just ‘this was/is my life’.

I suggest reading this book no matter what. It’s more than the experience of a black girl, but the experience of being a round peg in a square environment.

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