Rating: 4/5 Stars
Dive into the radiant world of California Golden by Melanie Benjamin, where the sun-soaked landscapes of 1960s Southern California set the stage for a mesmerizing exploration of family dynamics, desperation, and second chances.
At the heart of the narrative is Carol Donnelly, a legendary female surfer challenging the norms of a male-dominated sport, and her daughters Mindy and Ginger. Fueled by their mother’s apparent indifference, these young sisters adopt Carol’s unwavering devotion to the ocean, normalizing PB&J sandwiches for dinner and skipping school to catch waves. While Mindy becomes a surfing sensation, basking in minor celebrity and winning competitions, Ginger finds herself entangled with the self-proclaimed ‘Surf God’ in a world of drug deals and beachside shack living.
Drawing inspiration from a real-life mother-daughter surfing trio, Benjamin weaves a tale that, though fictional, swells with authenticity. The characters’ actions are often frustrating, but they undeniably contribute to the novel’s overall impact. Despite not always being likable, the characters come alive and shine the brightest when they’re hanging ten.
What truly dazzles in this book is the key throughline: the generational echoes within a family when a woman is torn away from her true calling and thrust into a role she never desired. Through the compelling narratives of Mindy and Ginger, Benjamin explores how parental neglect leaves an indelible mark on a child’s beliefs and behaviors. Carol resists the conventional trappings of motherhood, often seeking solace by the seaside. In Carol’s absence, Mindy evolves into Ginger’s caretaker, fostering a fierce sense of self-preservation. Ginger, on the flip side, desperately seeks someone to look after her. These reverberations from their shared history resonate in their subsequent romantic relationships, adding layers of complexity to the emotional rollercoaster of the narrative.
Written by Lauryn Smith
Guess who came to town—Erik Larson! Larson is the best-selling author of a handful of nonfiction novels, including "The Devil in the White City" and "In the Garden of Beasts." This Reviewer swooned when she found out he was coming to North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, IL, for a talk and signing event April 7, 2015 (thank you, Beth). A couple of us Reviewers attended Larson’s lecture, during which he spoke about his newest release, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," released March 10, 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of the historic disaster. Here are five takeaways from the lecture.
1. Writing Style
Anyone who has ventured into one of Larson’s novels knows that while they are extremely interesting and well written, the amount of information presented does not make them conducive to reading cover to cover in one sitting (not that it is impossible!). However, Larson made clear a humorous nuance to his writing when he read a passage from "Dead Wake" aloud. Some bits of information do more than relay facts—they also illustrate inconsistencies of thought common during the period being written about. In "Dead Wake," for instance, Larson touches on Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure” for female nervous conditions, the most severe cases calling for electric shock treatments in a tub of water.
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