BookBrowse Reviews The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Last Days of California

A Novel

by Mary Miller

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A teenager comes to terms with life's realities on a long road trip.

Jess is an overweight 14-year-old girl stuck in the car with her religious fanatic parents and her pregnant, anorexic sister. The family is driving 2,500 miles to California so they can be among the last people to witness the Rapture.

The premise seems tailor-made for this reviewer (in terms of interest, and also the fact that I was once a 14-year-old girl, trapped in the car with my family for what seemed like eternity) but I challenge anyone to read Mary Miller's The Last Days of California and not find some personal resonance in the backseat of that apocalypse-bound wagon. That's because underneath Miller's road trip novel is the age-old story we all lived through: the one where you discover your parents are human. Or, in Jess's case, that they're weak, sometimes pathetic, and probably not happy.

Jess — the serious kid, the good kid, the kid who doesn't get jokes — longs to be more like Elise, her 17-year-old sister whose pregnancy is a secret between the two of them. Elise is wild, beautiful, and funny. She wears the T-shirts their dad has had printed for them ("King Jesus Returns!) with ironic relish, while Jess wears hers in awkward earnest. Elise challenges her father constantly, interrupting his sermons with her teenaged rationale: "It's hard to believe Noah was the only man worth saving." In short, she entertains herself.

Jess, on the other hand, can only cling to the thin scraps of belief she has left (belief in her parents, belief in God) and count the miles until they'll pull in to the next motel and she can stuff her face with pizza while watching bad '80s movies.

But of course, the trip serves as the catalyst for Jess' awakening to some uncomfortable truths. Her father is immature and irresponsible, her mother miserable, and Jess herself is cast in a most unwelcome role.

She was unhappy with us and I wanted to do everything I could to make her stay, to keep her…I felt like I had to compensate for my father and sister's behavior. I didn't know why this burden had fallen to me, why I was the one who was unable to be herself, but it had always been this way.

As the family makes their way West, we see them in vignettes with each other: in gas station parking lots, in crappy motels, fast food restaurants, Waffle Houses. "We all knew each other completely differently, in ways that would never overlap." And we watch as Jess grapples with the increasingly likely fact that there will be no Rapture; that she will have to find a middle ground between belief and cynicism. She will have to find a way to live, as herself, alone amongst others.

The Last Days of California isn't quite a young-adult novel, but Jess's smart, funny voice certainly speaks for and to her age group. The book is quirky, heartbreaking, and seriously funny. I'd recommend it to anyone who's ever been a kid.

Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor

This review was originally published in January 2014, and has been updated for the September 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The American Road Trip Book

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Force
    The Force
    by Don Winslow
    Intense! That's the word. Winslow's The Force rips through its four hundred pages with the...
  • Book Jacket: Shadow Man
    Shadow Man
    by Alan Drew
    Alan Drew's debut novel, Gardens of Water, was an ambitious work of literary fiction set amid ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Noise of Time
    by Julian Barnes
    Confession: I do two terrible – some say unforgivable – things while reading a book. First...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews

Enter

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Necklace
    by Claire McMillan

    For readers of The Nest, the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family secrets.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.