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Book Review: Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson

Elsewhere, California

I’m really glad that I found Dana Johnson! I forget how I found out about her as an author– Maybe Library Journal reviews, maybe Amazon recommendations, maybe an old photocopied book list. I wrote a bit about her short story collection, Break Any Woman Down, about a week ago. My write-up was really disjointed because I got all distracted in between reading and writing– but I was interested enough to read more by her.

Break Any Woman Down has two stories about a character named Avery– one as a child, and one when she’s older. Elsewhere, California is a more fleshed out meditation on Avery’s life, flip-flopping between the present and the past to illustrate that your personal history never entirely leaves you. Avery did most of her growing up as an African American female in the suburbs of LA, often in a sea of white kids. As a grownup she’s an artist and a stay-at-home girlfriend to a wealthy Italian immigrant who’s white. The publisher and cataloging descriptions of the book that I’ve found aren’t really the greatest– they tend to be kind of essentialist, I think in hopes to “package” the book nicely for specific “sets” of readers. Basically a lot of stuff that is often rather poignant happens. These happenings involve gender, class, art, and most prominently the state of race and racism in America. These details aren’t really spelled out– it’s more like they’re positioned in a ways that the reader will hopefully notice.

The book is well-written, engaging, and doesn’t take too long to read. The structure of flipping between the past and the present is not problematic, and I found that I was disappointed when it was over.

Find a copy here.

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