Wonder Valley: Book summary and reviews of Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda

Wonder Valley

by Ivy Pochoda

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda X
Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2017
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Visitation Street, a visionary and masterful portrait of contemporary Los Angeles.

It's a familiar sight in Los Angeles, traveling on the 110 during peak morning rush hour: an endless sea of commuters, with no respite for miles. But this traffic jam is different - a runner is dodging and weaving between the cars at an astonishing clip. He's moving so fast he's almost a blur. But what's clearly evident is that he is completely naked. This seemingly mundane highway backup turns into a seminal moment for a handful of Angelenos-people whose lives are in desperate need of a change.

Out of this ordinary event, Ivy Pochoda spins a web that stretches all over the City of Angels, from Skid Row to the gentrified enclaves, from the desert to the ocean, all featuring characters in some sort of disarray. There's Ren, from Brooklyn and just out of juvie, who makes his way to LA to look for his mother on Skid Row who has been lost to him for years. There's Owen and James, 14-year old twins who live in a desert commune, where their father, Patrick, a self-proclaimed healer, holds a powerful, dangerous sway over his many disciples. There's Britt, a wayward soul in search of adventure, who ends up the center of Patrick's attention. There's Tony, a successful lawyer who hates his job and his marriage and is looking for meaning. And there's Blake, a violent drifter laying low in the desert, but who unwittingly gets caught up with James and Patrick and the whole sham healing game. 

When one of the twins runs away after a disturbing incident on Patrick's commune, a series of events bring these characters, all so real and true, and imbued with endless amounts of empathy and wisdom, together. Whether running away from the past, or looking to reclaim their future, they all will do anything for a semblance of peace.

Ivy Pochoda, who the Boston Globe said has "a profound understanding of human resilience," has written a sweeping portrait of angst, violence, heartache, and yearning-a breathtaking novel of remarkable wisdom and empathy.

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Media Reviews

"Pochoda paints southern California with a vibrant brush, rendering an evocative landscape on which her desperate characters seek out redemption and rejuvenation." - Booklist

"Wonder Valley is destined to be a classic L.A. novel. From desert scrub to cold blue sea, it carries an eloquent yet hard-edge take on the contradictions of a place so difficult to define. It's impossible to put down." - Michael Connelly, author of The Wrong Side of Goodbye

"Ivy Pochoda's Wonder Valley offers us a vision of Southern California that is at once panoramic and intimate. This novel paints an unforgettable portrait of people who long, above all else, for community and connection." - Edan Lepucki, author of California

"Despite the initial confusion, Pochoda (Visitation Street) takes readers places they don't often see with authenticity and clarity. Her description of the daily lives of the urban homeless is particularly vivid and sympathetic. Each of the main characters does achieve some sort of peace or resolution by the dark and often violent book's end" - Library Journal

"Pochada has written a novel alive with empathy for the dispossessed and detailed descriptions of the California landscape, with a little of the film Crash thrown in. But as sympathetic as the characters are, their stories fail to come together as a dramatic whole." - Publishers Weekly

The information about Wonder Valley shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Cathy O' Altavista, VA

Wonder Valley
Life often takes turns based on small actions that have large consequences. The characters in this novel seem to have all ended up in unfortunate circumstances. The way they come together and either survive or not makes for a very entertaining read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes interesting characters. I felt the descriptions of life on the streets of LA was haunting and accurate. I wished the author had provided more closure on some characters, like Britt and her situation with Andy. I also would have liked more background on other characters. Wonder Valley is a novel that stays with you and makes you re-think what makes people make the choices they do.

Kenan R. (Liberty, MO)

Wonderful and Seedy
This was a beautifully written book about a less than attractive subject. Marginalized characters are introduced in 2 time lines, and their stories of questionable choices and loss unfold independently of each other in Southern California from Skid Row to sketchy compounds in the Mojave. Eventually the stories from 2006 intersect in the 2010 story line and that is where I was hooked. The latter half of the book seems to move at a brisker pace as these lost people converge and we look for answers. I felt like the author did an excellent job of tying up the individual story lines without making the package too pretty for our gritty and very real-seeming protagonists.

I have already given this book to my husband to read. Although I could see how this book - with it's less than savory characters might not be to everyone's taste - I would recommend it!

Gary R. (Bolingbrook, IL)

Only in California!
Quite an interesting read; follow along with the SoCal adventures of the characters as they try to survive. You can feel the heat, you can smell the desert, and it all starts with a traffic jam and a naked jogger. A good read, give it a try!

Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

Wonder Valley
A man is running down the Hollywood freeway, he is completely nude, seemingly without a care in the world. As the cars sit in the usual crawling traffic, another man, a man on impulse will leave his car sitting in traffic and take off running, following the naked man. This is the beginning of this novel, which will take us from the streets of Los Angeles, to skid row and out to a desert commune with a divergent group of characters.

They are lost souls, trying to escape either something the have done, or do not understand where their lives took a wrong turn, hopeful still that they can turn it around. Gritty and powerful story telling at its best. Street people and the fierce way they guard their spots, try to look out for each there. A commune run by a man who says he has answers, a healer of the psyche, a married man with two twin teenage sons. Two drifters, with a capacity for violence and a man who can't escape a past mistake. All will come together, their stories converge in strange ways. All want to survive, to thrive though all will not be given the chance.

For those squeamish about the killing of chickens, though they are killed for food, I suggest skimming chapter four. Other than that I found this book to be wonderfully written, a dark yet hopeful street read. It reminded me in tone and feeling of the book, Gold Fame Citrus, though this is contemporary and not post apocalyptic.

Mary H. (Ocala, FL)

From the first page of this wonderful new novel, Ivy Pochoda draws the reader into her world of contemporary Los Angeles and the area in the Mojave Desert known as Wonder Valley. While the characters are first introduced in a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, as the book progresses, the author skillfully merges their stories to intersect and intertwine. This group is from the seamier side of life--living each day under the radar and just trying to survive. I came away with a sense of wonder at the skill it takes to exist on the streets or entirely off the grid and how people with no real home or emotional support find the strength to connect with others where they can and keep going. The author has created such vivid characters that I became immersed in their lives and hoped for better days to come for each of them. Some of their stories are poignant, some heartbreaking, and others uplifting. Each is memorable.

I think the best novelists bring us into the world of their story and keep up there so that we don't want the book to end but, when it does, the characters stay with us long after the last page is read. Wonder Valley had that effect on me.

Patricia L. (Seward, AK)

Exit for a closer view...
A naked young man is running against traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway, weaving through cars that have reluctantly stopped to avoid hitting him. Tony, a commuter, is uncontrollably compelled to chase him. In Wonder Valley, author Ivy Pochoda slowly unravels the tale that brought the young man to the freeway through Tony, Blake, Britt, Ren and James uncovering the chaos that is life for those unfortunates living in the underbelly of California.

Wonder Valley is the location of a farm where "lost kids pretend to find themselves in the middle of nowhere…" James, whose parents run the farm, has yet to find himself. Britt is running from secrets while Blake is seeking revenge in all the wrong places. Ren is looking for his mother and redemption for a mistake made when he was twelve.

The plot of Wonder Valley is really secondary to Pochoda's description of life on the streets of California. "…the sound of semis booming up Sixth and the slow roll of garbage trucks kicking up an even worse stench than what already hung in the air. The streets were up early, banging with the rattle and clatter of shopping carts being loaded and pushed away before the cops or the red shirts came." Tony, whose LA is "…palm tree lined streets and houses covered in bougainvillea" finds himself on Skid Row. "…what he should do is go home. Get a coffee on the way and maybe some hand sanitizer."

There is a lot to keep straight in this novel. At times it feels like speeding down the freeway trying to find an exit, any exit. But isn't that what California is all about? Recommended for those who seek a more intimate view of the not so beautiful people in the Golden State.

...10 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Ivy Pochoda Author Biography

Photo: Justin Nowell

Ivy Pochoda is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Visitation Street published by Ecco / Dennis Lehane Books. Visitation Street was chosen as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, Amazon Best Book of 2013, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Huffington Post, Self, and House & Garden. Her first novel The Art of Disappearing, was published by St. Martin's Press in 2009. She has a BA from Harvard College in Classical Greek and an MFA from Bennington College in fiction.

Ivy grew up in Brooklyn, NY and currently lives in downtown Los Angeles with her husband Justin Nowell.

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