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Elsewhere, California: A Novel
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Elsewhere, California: A Novel

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  204 ratings  ·  35 reviews
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 more 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, ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Counterpoint (first published June 1st 2012)
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Dec 16, 2013 Suzanne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: l-a
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 simplici
Patrick O'Neil
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 ...more

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 oft
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 ...more
Angela Flournoy
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 ...more
Kate Maruyama
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.
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 ...more
An excellent follow-up to her Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection, Break Any Woman Down.

For a full review, see my blog:
Jenny Shank

Up the road and a world away: A review of Elsewhere, California
REVIEW - From the December 10, 2012 High Country News issue
By Jenny Shank
Elsewhere, California
Dana Johnson
276 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,
Austin Hubert
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 ...more
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 belong at an elite pri ...more
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.
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.
Shana Kennedy
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
Bill Breedlove
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. ...more
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 ...more
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
Steve Are
Every accolade the covers said it was, and then some. 'Want to read the prequel, now.
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 ...more
I like the way Dana told the story: Elsewhere, California. The fading in and out of the past and into the present to show a connection between both realities. Avery was a good storyteller who gave an open review of the world she lived in the mind messages and her feelings that she had/experienced. Reading this story gave me some perspective on format in a book how it can be told now how it should be told.
This is an unusually good coming-of-age novel that I hope gets some end-of-year best-books-list love. Avery's navigation of race and class issues (on top of the usual preteen concerns of clothes and friends and parents) is the heart of the book. I wasn't as convinced by the adult Avery's relationship with the obscure Massimo (I'm not sure the novel needed a frame story at all), but I appreciate the idea that your adolescent life continues to reverberate throughout your adulthood.
Diana Huguley
Loved the style of writing. Great story line. I was able to relate to the characters on so many levels.
"I'm crazy. I feel crazy. It's windy. Santa Ana winds that I usually love. All warm and super strong and the wind does make you feel a bit crazy."

Great line from Elsewhere, California. The author does an amazing job describing Southern CA/LA culture back then where I was born. Made me smile and cringe at the similar memories. Raw and well written.
I loved this book! I love her use of language to take us back and forth in time. As an LA resident, I enjoyed her descriptions of the different neighborhoods, what they represent and how they impact her characters. It is a story about race, class, gender, love, family and ultimately about becoming okay with who you are.
I couldn't put this book down. Beautiful. Eye-opening on so many accounts. I was immediately pulled deeply into Avery's world because she tells her story with an open heart--as a child, a woman, an artist -- and with all the complications (and simplicity) that being her true self reveals.
Patricia Geller
I liked the story better than the writing which I found to be slow going. Interesting characters and a lovely illustration of growing up in a state of racial, class and cultural confusion.
First book of the new year! Yeah ! Interesting read. Loved the hopeful ending. Appreciated the cultural references of the SGV in the 70s and 80s.
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).
Great book! About a girl who grows up in SoCal, it keeps switching back and forth from past to present day.
Jane Vandenburgh
Anyone who'd like to truly understand the complexity and beauty of my home state needs to read Dana Johnson
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My progress on Elsewhere California 4 6 Oct 02, 2012 03:09PM  
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  • The Roving Tree
  • The Other Room
  • Disgruntled
  • The Sad Passions
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  • The Fifty-First State
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  • A Taste of Honey: Stories
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  • Stupid Children
  • Virgin Soul
  • Sons and Other Flammable Objects: A Novel
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  • Corregidora
  • Last Things
  • Color Blind: A Memoir
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“She put her hand out and I stare at it. She say, I would like to welcome you to the neighborhood. Her voice sound sharp to me. Clean at the end of each word like when you snap your fingers. After each snap, the sound end, aint nothing coming after it like when we talk. When we talk, its like you humming at the end of every word you say.” 0 likes
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