cover image Elsewhere, California

Elsewhere, California

Dana Johnson. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-58243-784-2

Avery is nine when her family escapes L.A.’s gang violence and moves to the suburbs, becoming the only black people in the neighborhood. Feeling alienated, but impressionable, Avery adjusts by way of Tiger Beat, Shaun Cassidy collages, and a mouthy best friend. At 40, Avery has become a visual artist, her rich and sensual Italian boyfriend clearly instrumental in helping her find the self-acceptance that eluded her for so long. This wildly vivid novel unfolds, zigzagging between Avery’s past and present and exploring all the ways in which one continues to both haunt and electrify the other. Johnson, a California native and professor of English at the University of Southern California, introduced Avery in her Flannery O’Connor Award–winning story collection, Break Any Woman Down. In this debut novel, Johnson brilliantly knits the dual narratives together, maintaining a dynamic balance between nimble language and rowdy, vulnerable characters. The real achievement is the honest, compassionate, and unflinching willingness to honor teenage struggles for identity, confidence, and love while listening to Led Zeppelin and rooting for the Dodgers. A prologue that feels forced is instantly rendered unnecessary by the surefire language that explodes with chapter one. Agent: Rosalie Siegel. (June)