Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Californium” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.74  ·  Rating details ·  152 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A coming-of-age crossover novel about growing up, selling out, and fitting in.
     It's late summer 1982 when the Houghton family uproots from Paterson, New Jersey and moves to Yorba Linda, California—the self-anointed "Land of Gracious Living." Fourteen year-old Reece is trying his best to believe his family has come to California for the opportunities it affords and not
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 19th 2016 by Plume
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Californium, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Californium

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  152 ratings  ·  43 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Californium
Cynthia Corral
So keep in mind that 3 stars means "I liked it."
But I didn't love it. And it took me an incredibly long time to read it because I had other things I'd rather do.

I think the author has a good concept, and I like what he was trying to do, and I love how a lot came together with science in the end. But getting there was kind of a long, slow drag.

Initially I was all in with this book; I went to high school in NoCal in the 80s, and went to college in SoCal also in the 80s. The bands, the music, the c
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I couldn’t put this book down.

It’s about a boy coming of age in Orange County in the 80s during the punk scene. Growing up in Orange County myself and listening to my parents stories about that time and working in the music industry and seeing most of the bands mentioned, it was super fun to read about it from that perspective. The way the author wrote really pulls you in to caring about the characters and feeling like you really know them and i love the small town elements of creating a univer
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't normally read YA novels, but I really, really liked this book.

The characters are so well developed, so likeable and the plot is often complex, moving and insightful.

The story transported me back to my own high-school days, and made me wish I was back there again. I really didn't want this story to end - I loved it
Jedadiah Lampron
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very well written book pertaining to growing up in SoCal as a teenager just getting into the punk scene. Coming of age story for a couple of outcasts finding their way.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was not a "blow you away", "oh my gosh" 5 star book. However, it was a well-written look into life in the early 80s in Southern California, life of a 14 year old dealing with his own internal struggles and those of being a teen boy in high school, and a fun look at the music and culture of the time. Mentions of Tower Records and Millers Outpost, helped keep the nostalgia level high and firmly placed the story in its time. But even if you aren't a child of the 80s, the characters and situati ...more
Jennifer Spiegel
It's been a while since I've read it, but I'm thinking RULE OF THE BONE. There's some CATCHER too. This sweet bildungsroman covers the time-I think I might say--just before the angst sets in. This is an early portrait of Gen X. Gen X as kids. Gen X on the cusp. Gen X without cynicism. When girls dressed in big sweatshirts that fell off naked shoulders, all Flashdancy. ...more
Lisa Day
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Teenage boy's mind revealed

Bob Johnson's novel is far more than bildungsroman; it's a story of friendship and self-discovery, familial relationships, and the difficult process of grief. The book takes me back to my own high school experience in the 80s, and it's a relief to learn that boys think about the same basic things in similarly neurotic ways as girls.
Brooke Raby
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely a crossover, but most enjoyable for adults. A lyrical introduction to disappointment, anticipation, bewilderment, grief, and finding your own groove. The writing is top-notch, even if the subject feels worn. But I've never wanted a used jacket with band patches more in my life. ...more
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Timeless ÷ Nostalgia

Lyrical, funny to the point of farce but yet so real. Evocative and absolutely accurate - captures what it was like to be in SoCal in the 80s and to be in High School always and everywhere.
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary
Full disclosure to the author (whom I know as Bob, and consider a friend): I started this book more because he wrote it, though the subject matter was of interest to me. I'm obsessed with '80s music, but I've never gotten into punk (I'm a new wave and post-punk kind of guy), so I didn't know what to expect. However, the more I read it, the more I got into it, and by the end I was thoroughly blown away. Johnson did something rather miraculous with this book: he got me nostalgic for high school, w ...more
Full disclosure, I was in grad. school with the author, so I may be slightly biased.

Californium is a good book about teens starting a punk rock band in 1982 Yorba Linda, CA. It deals with identity, the power of music and fitting in and out. The references to 1980s culture and events are spot-on. No wrong note that I could discern. Its description of music is well done.

Reece and his family have moved from Paterson, NJ to Yorba Linda, CA where Richard Nixon is from, which is important to the stor
Kathy Stone
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-to-read
This is a story of the new kid. There is an undercurrent of sadness as Reece tries to navigate high school in new state. He wants to fit in, but does know how. He meets up with a neighbor boy who pretends to know everything, but does not really know anything and a punk rock wannabe who is also depressed. The difference is that Reece finds a productive use for his grief while his friend Treat does not and as a result a friendship is destroyed. This is a hard lesson for teens to learn as they navi ...more
Julie Hicks
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fantastic coming of age novel during a time when rebellion is about finding yourself. This book captures teen angst in a storyline that uses punk rock and seeking popularity to follow the story of a young man named Reece. Reece wants nothing more than to be noticed especially after he returns from New York. He left a life he loved behind especially the one he looks up to Themistocles, his Uncle Ryan. We follow Reece as he learns that growing pains are real, some friends are fake, ...more
Laura Mc
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Undeniably funny, this coming-of-age novel is about the teenage boy who longs to be accepted. The New Jersey high schooler, Reece, struggles with a move to California in the 1980s, as his tight-knit relationship with his father sours. Reece finds his way in adolescene, mourns the new family dynamic of a father who is emotionally and physically absent, and looks for ways to make friends in a radically new environment at school. His answer to his problems? Start a punk rock band. The author is hil ...more
Sep 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fantastic. I was about five years older than the teens in this book and growing up in the frozen north but dreams of rebellion and punk rock supremacy guided me through the terror and pain of adolescence. We really had nothing to be angry about but like Treat needed to look and act the part, to trick both ourselves and those around us as to who we really were. Thank you for bringing these awkward days so vividly back to life. Not sure my buddies who were into Van Halen and ACDC woul ...more
Tracy Haught
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a thoroughly enjoyable read. Californium is a nostalgic trip back to the 80's when friendship consisted of actually having to walk down to your friends house rather than pick up your cellphone. When you actually used your imagination, explored your neighborhood, and talked to people with your voice, not your fingers. The Wonder Years came to mind as I read. The author does a beautiful job of creating a main character , Reece, whose voice sings the song of innocence, angst, and rebellion, to ...more
Steve Davis
Jul 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A fun read about a boy from NJ who moved to California during his formative years. He encounters the challenges of fitting-in and adapting to a new social environment, and forms a band with two of his friends. The story was easy to follow, entertaining, and relatable to someone who grew up in California in the 80’s. The author did a phenomenal job describing the characters in the book, making me feel like I was right there with them, as I regressed back to adolescence and became emotionally inve ...more
Stephanie Faris
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Californium introduces us to Reece, a 14-year-old teen with a heart of gold. Soon after moving to California with his family, he meets Keith and Treat...and the three of them start a punk group. The nostalgia factor is huge for those who grew up in the 80s, but mostly I just enjoyed seeing that side of the 80s-teen experience. Also, Reece is such a lovable character, you can't help but root for him throughout this coming-of-age story. ...more
A good coming-of-age novel about a high school freshman in a new school. It will make you remember your high school days with fond memories or some anxiety. A great read for teenagers. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Richard Stuecker
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Superb comic novel about an outlier high school student from the East Coast finding himself in an Orange County California high school. This is the tale of the finding of the garage band, Dik Nixon, and adolescents finding manhood in the 1980’s.
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A book that perfectly captures coming of age in my hometown, Yorba Linda, CA. Loved all the references to Yorba Linda Blvd and Esperanza, the workings of the high school rumor mill, and the homegrown punk scene.
Heidi Kirsch
Jul 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review.

I was interested in the book because it was about adolescence in the 80's and 'punk rock.'
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reminds me of my high school years and the decit in the music business as well, no matter how old you are.
Katie Harder-schauer
I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

For some reason I had it in my head that this book was set 10-15 years before it is, so there was a bit of a social disconnect for me for a while, until I went and read the blurb again. Things started to make a little more sense then. It was a little surreal for me reading something that really qualifies as historical fiction (in my opinion) that is set at a time when I almost existed. Surely
Jim Collett
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won a copy of this book from Read It Forward. It is a nice little coming-of-age novel set in California in the early 1980s. Punk rock, or at least the illusion of punk rock (!), plays a significant role in the story. While I was not much into that music, I knew enough to understand the references, clothing style, etc. I thought the language was a little rough in places for young adult literature, but perhaps I'm just too prudish. The primary character, a high school freshman, has just relocate ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reece is a teenager living in California in the 1980s. Not only is he a freshman in a new school, but his whole family moved from New Jersey to California. It is up to Reece and the friends he makes to begin understanding who he is and where he wants to go next, and how he can get over missing his beloved Uncle Ryan. In Californium the clock is turned back—readers are dropped into the high school life where you're going to be put in a box: are you a jock, a nerd, a punk or what? The decisions Re ...more
Lisa Workman
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure that I would like this book, as I have never liked punk rock, but the book is really more of a coming of age story with a focus on friendships and self-discovery. As an 80s kid, I found it to be relatable, and an overall enjoyable light read. I won a copy of this in a Goodreads giveaway and the opinions are my own. ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Disclaimer: I won a free copy of this book from This review is also posted on

The "Coming of Age" genre focuses on identity. Who you are, who people think you are, and the multiple identities you walk in amongst your peers, family, and the larger circles around you. As the novel progresses, we get to see Reece transform from the new kid in school who's trying to find a way to fit in, to a young man who is starting to understand the complexities of life. CALI
Eli Wilkinson
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
For a book billed as 'punk rock' there's surprisingly little discussion about music until well past the halfway point. This drawing out of things is the book's biggest short coming, a VERY slow burn that just doesn't deliver.

I found the characters to be pretty flat and undeveloped. The narrators descriptions of people and events reads like a high school report, which is maybe purposeful? But for me doesn't work.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult
Set in the 1980s. Drags a little in the middle, but it's pretty good. ...more
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Killer Dreams
  • Cop Town
  • Before the Fall
  • The Perfect Ruin
  • Say Cheese and Die! (Goosebumps, #4)
  • The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian
  • Normal Distance
  • Gleam (The Plated Prisoner, #3)
  • Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
  • Third Grade Angels
  • Le monde selon Guirec et Monique
  • Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution
  • Created Equal: The Painful Past, Confusing Present, and Hopeful Future of Race in America
  • The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World
  • Call Us What We Carry
  • The Girl Who Could Fly (Piper McCloud, #1)
  • Wrong Time, Wrong Place
  • In Our Time
See similar books…
I haven't been R Dean Johnson my whole life. My parents named me Robert Dean Johnson, Jr. They called me Bobby. Everyone did until high school when I graduated to Bob. It felt mature, so I went with it. Who doesn't like a guy named Bob Johnson? It's a fine name up until the point you think you might want to be a writer.

I didn't know I'd want to become a writer. In fact, I started college at Cal Po

Related Articles

For her debut novel, author Tracy Deonn took on the task of reimagining the legend of King Arthur with a modern-day Black teenage girl at its...
131 likes · 17 comments
“I want to believe him. I know stuff happens to people and they can't always be who they were or who they think they're supposed to be. But knowing that doesn't mean I'm okay with it. It's more like what Mr. Krueger says about black holes: We can't wish them away, so we'd better learn as much as we can about where they are and how they work so we don't get sucked in.” 2 likes
More quotes…