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Elsewhere, California

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  360 Ratings  ·  59 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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Angela Flournoy
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

So, 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.


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
Wilhelmina Jenkins
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Patrick O'Neil
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 04, 2015 marked it as maybes
Shelves: fiction, dcpl
West Covina!?

Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
i wonder which stater bros. she walked to.
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
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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
Kate Maruyama
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Pretty good. I liked Avery but I often wanted to shake her . . . .until the end of the book : ).
Nov 23, 2012 rated it liked it
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).
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
An excellent follow-up to her Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection, Break Any Woman Down.

For a full review, see my blog:
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fell in love with the main character -- Avery -- right away, an African American girl growing up in LA and then moving (just slightly farther away) to a southern California suburb. Just a few chapters in, we are introduced to Avery as a young woman, a college grad and professional artist, living with her successful Italian boyfriend in an architect-designed house up in the hills. These two parts of Avery's life -- and her family and friends -- are so skillfully braided together by Dana Johnson t ...more
Morgan Miller-Portales
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
‘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 fraught ...more
Stephanie Schilling
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Probably a 4.5 stars for me- the ending was really powerful. I enjoyed this book and I adored looking at the world through Avery’s eyes. I would be happy to continue to read her narration indefinitely. This seemed like such an American story to me. I could see this being good assigned reading at high schools and colleges because there is a lot to think about and it so beautifully addresses race in this country.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a rare book that gained steam and got better as it progressed. I felt a distance from the narrator at first, but I grew to understand her rhythms and thought process, and ended up caring about how her life turned out, along with those of her best friend and cousin. Wonderful read for those who want to explore African-American experience and life in California.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just really need everyone to be nice to Avery. And I really, really need to see her four pieces in the art show, especially the self-portrait. I’ve never felt more robbed that a character in a book is fiction, and not a real person I could theoretically try to befriend. I want to know what Avery thinks about everything.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jenny Shank
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing

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,
Nov 17, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Austin Hubert
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Bill Breedlove
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Shana Kennedy
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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My progress on Elsewhere California 4 6 Oct 02, 2012 03:09PM  
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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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