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 X
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: How to Stop Time
    How to Stop Time
    by Matt Haig
    Tom Hazard, the protagonist of How to Stop Time, is afflicted with a condition of semi-immortality ...
  • Book Jacket: Mothers of Sparta
    Mothers of Sparta
    by Dawn Davies
    What it's about:
    The tagline on the back cover of Mothers of Sparta says it all: "Some women...
  • Book Jacket: Fortress America
    Fortress America
    by Elaine Tyler May
    In Fortress America, Elaine Tyler May presents a fascinating but alarming portrait of America's...
  • Book Jacket: The Friend
    The Friend
    by Sigrid Nunez
    Sigrid Nunez is one of the most underrated authors writing today. Her work is so lovely, so ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

A nuanced portrait of war, and of three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Next Year in Havana
    by Chanel Cleeton

    a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she finds a family secret hidden since the revolution.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    As Bright as Heaven
    by Susan Meissner

    A story of a family reborn through loss and love in Philadelphia during the flu epidemic of 1918.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A gripping novel from the award-winning author of For Today I Am a Boy.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

G O T P, B The P, F T P

and be entered to win..

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.