Read Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson Online


We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson’s award-winning collection Break Any Woman Down. As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a more gentrified existence in suburban West Covina. This average life, filled with school, trips to 7-Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family outings to Dodger Stadium,We first met Avery in two of the stories featured in Dana Johnson’s award-winning collection Break Any Woman Down. As a young girl, she and her family escape the violent streets of Los Angeles to a more gentrified existence in suburban West Covina. This average life, filled with school, trips to 7-Eleven to gawk at Tiger Beat magazine, and family outings to Dodger Stadium, is soon interrupted by a past she cannot escape, personified in the guise of her violent cousin Keith.When Keith moves in with her family, he triggers a series of events that will follow Avery throughout her life: to her studies at USC, to her burgeoning career as a painter and artist, and into her relationship with a wealthy Italian who sequesters her in his glass-walled house in the Hollywood Hills. The past will intrude upon Avery’s first gallery show, proving her mother’s adage: Every goodbye aint gone. The dual-narrative of Elsewhere, California illustrates the complicated history of African Americans across the rolling basin of Los Angeles....

Title : Elsewhere, California
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781582437842
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Elsewhere, California Reviews

  • Suzanne
    2019-02-23 09:56

    Three and 3/4 stars. Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are. Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and West Covina, grows into a university-educated artist, marries a very successful Italian immigrant businessman, and comes to live in the Hollywood Hills, while staying in touch with her white wild-child girlhood best friend Brenna and a ne’er-do-well cousin. Alternating chapters flash back to her childhood, episodes that illustrate the rural simplicity of her Tennessee-bred parents, their work ethic, hopes for their family, and pride, and the difficulties of escaping the constrictions of stereotypes. The chapters dealing with her childhood are told in dialect inherited from her family, but as the narration tracks her adolescence and adulthood, the voice shifts to a more conventional English as she learns to assimilate, even while trying to find a balance in maintaining her own identity.When Brenna objects to her listening to Michael Jackson, Avery defends him: “So I let him sing his song. Maybe, if he hadn’t hated himself for looking the way he did. Maybe if he had someone telling him before, earlier, before he ever got on a stage, something different about himself. Maybe then he wouldn’t have tried to move bone and skin and hair into shapes and textures and colors that he thought made him better. Or maybe, if he just could have been all of that, mixed up, in peace, weird and black in the first place. I tell Brenna all of this as we’re driving down the hill.”The younger Avery considers herself a master of blending in, not making waves, but as she grows up, she begins realizing the value of unusual combinations, of doing things in a wholly original way, and that, rather than trying to keep people and things in their own little boxes, mixing thing up, in life, as in art, expands their potential exponentially. In keeping with her artist’s sensibility, she knows that to know things as they really are, one has to really look, to really see, and that the juxtaposition of disparate things and people and ideas can only have a liberating effect. Through her art she is able to express herself as a unique individual and resist the pigeon-holing that society is all too ready to inflict on her as a black woman. About Brenna, she says, “She doesn’t understand that she had a luxury, as little as she and her family had. She had the luxury of not having to listen to all the voices [cousin] Keith and I had to. I didn’t think I could afford to ignore the voices. They were everywhere, all the time, but I found help, a place to put the voices, a way to turn them into something I was saying back.” Angelenos will enjoy Avery’s localized descriptions. Her love for the Dodgers and Vin Scully are almost palpable, and her descriptions of Palm Springs (college spring break! Woo hoo!) reflect a first-time visitor’s common reaction to the stark beauty of the desert. And for anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, the song lyrics strewn liberally throughout the book are fun, some of them bringing melodies into my head that hadn’t been there for years. Music resonates throughout, as do ideas about the complex interrelated values of different types of work and money (commerce vs creativity), race and class, identity and conformity, and the power of society’s expectations to shape us. Avery is able to resist the voices that might have derailed her, as they do other characters, and to have the courage to be herself, through her connections with family, friends and the power of her art.

  • Angela Flournoy
    2019-02-24 10:05

    Dana Johnson lived in the same LA County suburb I grew up in, and went to the same middle school, high school and college I attended. This novel is the coming-over-age story I doubt I'll ever have the courage to write, about growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, negotiating race and identity in a very particular socioeconomic space, and discovering one's voice through art. It is beautifully written and full of such perfect descriptions of place that I felt homesick throughout. The narrator Avery is the nerdy, wordy blackgirl friend I wish I'd had growing up.

  • Vonetta
    2019-03-11 07:58

    3.5 starsSo, let me say that, initially, the language threw me off so badly that I thought about putting the book down. Then I remembered that I spoke exactly the way Avery did when I was a child. Damn. Suddenly, I realized that I had a bit more in common with this character than I'd assumed. We both had life experiences that resulted in transitions in character that manifested in our speech, primarily. This caused an immediate frisson in our connection with our families, but we still managed to hold onto a level of authenticity with our friends. Damn. But this book gets 3.5 stars because it felt clunky. I read "Disgruntled" right before this (both have evolving Black female leads), and it was so smooth. Maybe it was this book's jumping forward and backward in time. It could also have been that only Avery seemed to be developed; the other characters stayed completely put. But because of the other points, it still gets 3.5 stars.

  • Wilhelmina Jenkins
    2019-03-04 12:04

    Probably 4 1/2 stars, but I bumped it up to 5 because this book touched by heart. I really loved the protagonist, Avery, and her struggle to find herself, to be her own kind of black girl. This book has an interesting structure - alternating chapters from her childhood and her adulthood. Her voice as a child seemed spot-on to me. Avery is an artist, even before she knows it herself and I loved watching her discover that. Avery does not fit it easily anywhere - in her family, in school, anywhere except with a couple of friends who are as unusual as she is and with her cousin whose story is heartbreaking. Avery is a California girl and this book is loaded with throw-away cultural references, some of which I'm sure that I missed because of my age. But Avery takes them all in and combines them all to create herself and her art - unique and surprising. I loved this book.

  • Andre
    2019-02-20 06:03

    This is obviously a book about identity boundaries and over stepping them. Avery, a black child growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA doesn't exactly have the tastes that one would expect of a black child of the 70's, 80's. Avery is the main character of this novel, and her story is told throughout the book alternately by both her adult and child-to-adult voice. I think the objective of the writer is to examine and expose the boundaries of blackness and feminine identity. I mean, how often do we examine the ideas we hold about what is the "ideal" black persona? Avery listens to music that isn't typical "black" music. She dresses in a way that is deemed different and finds certain boys in the teen magazines of her day beautiful and yet none of them are black like her. Her father even asks her once, about some of the posters on her wall, "Who in the hell are all these white boys?" Avery seems to be haunted by the expression of "she ain't really black." The child-to-adult voice seems to be constantly struggling against the "ideal" black identity.So my question is whence came this push out of common definitions of blackness and femininity? The style of writing is luxurious, and the growing child/grown-up perspective mostly works and doesn't distract from the story. I think a little more background is needed on Avery, to help us understand how she came to struggle with her identity. That is never really explored, or hey... that may be the point of the novel. Do all teenagers struggle with how they fit in? How they should act and move through each day? Ultimately, this is a well written coming of age story, with Avery trying to figure it all out and navigate stereotypes of blackness and woman ness along the way. A journey worth taking. I wanted to give 3.5 stars, but you have to choose, so I settled on 4.

  • Patrick O'Neil
    2019-03-13 14:06

    Voice and dialogue, got to have voice and dialogue, otherwise it's just a descriptive narrative and somewhere around the hundredth fluffy description and transcribed imagery I get bored. I mean I've read books that were all that, but they didn't grip me and keep me interested. I'll read a slightly less well written novel with a great voice and tight dialogue over flowery chit-chat any day. Thankfully this compromise is not the case with Dana Johnson's Elsewhere, California. Her protagonist, a young woman named Avery, screams dialogue and the narrative voice is incredibly strong. Johnson brings us into Avery's world hard, and doesn't let up. We're allowed into a young woman's thoughts and fears, in juxtaposition to her now, today, grown up, still dealing with the sameness of it all. Only her past won't let her move on, or maybe she's too afraid to just let it go. Either way her inner turmoil of making the change from her family's ideals to who she wants to be, or at least sees herself as, is the underlining current. Then throw in never quite fitting in, a sense of self-hatred, a bit of guilt, the constant of racism, and strangely enough: baseball, and you've a small notion of the complexity of Elsewhere, California. Not to sound horribly clichéd, but Johnson knocks this one out of the ballpark – well written, hella tight dialogue, a strong-ass voice that you'd have to be deaf not to hear. Read it!

  • Jessica
    2019-03-13 09:04

    West Covina!?

  • Kevin
    2019-02-18 11:03

    i wonder which stater bros. she walked to.

  • Pamela
    2019-02-19 08:07

    I had a hard time getting into this book. There's no plot, just a naïve girl growing up in Southern California. Yet, this is where I connected. I grew up about the same place, about the same time and also quite clueless, despite my reading and everything. It seemed to be trying very desperately to say something about race. That is front and center. Yet it doesn't go anywhere. The narrator ends up doing art, but without any guidance yet still "subversive" and full of subtext. The novel felt like it had potential but didn't go anywhere, which is exactly what happened to our main character. The first female in the family to go to college, and USC no less. As a black woman she couldn't get a degree in art, where her talent and interest lay, but got a smart degree in business. Then nothing. Ended up marrying someone with money.Still the book hardly went anywhere. I found the lack of quotation marks just silly and annoying. They do serve a purpose! Well, I can hardly recommend this book. Likely it's one I will entirely forget in years to come.

  • Meryl
    2019-03-08 12:57

    This novel reminded me of Zadie Smith's NW in a lot of ways. The relationship between Avery (the black protagonist) and Brenna (her white best friend) was reminiscent of the relationship between Keisha (later Natalie) and Leah in NW, and Keisha's transformation to Natalie was similar to Avery's changing voice as she becomes more exposed to white culture. Both novels explore expectations dictated by race through the context of interracial relationships and characters who defy cultural stereotypes.Avery's experience is tracked from her beginnings in a poor black neighborhood to a white middle class one to a private school and eventually a Hollywood Hills mansion. The novel demonstrates how race is a social construct, and how one's identity can be shaped by other's perceptions.I loved discovering California through Avery's perspective and enjoyed her reflections. At some points the story moves too slowly, and fails to address some of the more interesting incidents that are mentioned, such as Brenna's pregnancy and Keith's path.

  • Ebony
    2019-03-11 05:40

    You’ve probably never heard of Avery Arlington, the protagonist of Dana Johnson’s novel “Elsewhere, California,” but you know her. She’s the childhood friend whose parents moved her out of the ’hood, and you never saw her again. She’s the awkward, only black girl in class. She’s the preteen who lingers at the magazine rack in 7-Eleven dreaming about being anyone other than who she is. She’s the college roommate or classmate who always looked and acted like she didn’t quite belong at an elite private institution. She’s the drunk, hot undergrad throwing herself at you for attention. She’s a ride-or-die Los Angeles Dodgers fan. She’s the woman with a class complex because it was her love for a man and not her hard work that lifted her out of poverty. She’s the artist whose installations on race and class make you uncomfortable when you view them.Continue readinghere

  • Kate Maruyama
    2019-03-09 08:53

    The pain of adolescence and that point in adulthood where we finally figure out who we are are woven together throughout this very smart book. Johnson nails dialogue, as her protagonist, Avery's voice goes from childhood in South Central to growing up in the valley to gentrification in the Hollywood Hills. But all of Avery's voices anchor us firmly in where she is at the moment. Johnson creates an overall personal journey for our heroine without losing tension or interest along the way.

  • Julia
    2019-03-08 06:59

    This book is all about Avery. It's one of the most character-driven books I've read in a while. On the one hand, nothing much happens, but on the other, Avery grows up, and we get to watch her change with every chapter. As a result, from a writer/reader perspective, this is a masterclass on voice and tone. But it's also a book about race. It provides a piercing description of growing up black in suburban California in the 70s, and what has (and has not) changed today. It's a great read.

  • UrbanWildflower
    2019-03-08 09:57

    Pretty good. I liked Avery but I often wanted to shake her . . . .until the end of the book : ).

  • Bethany
    2019-02-20 09:01

    Each individual part was underwhelming, but as a whole, much better than the parts (good thing I did not read this in short story or excerpt form).

  • Casey
    2019-02-23 05:40

    An excellent follow-up to her Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection, Break Any Woman Down. For a full review, see my blog:

  • Raven
    2019-03-18 13:53

    I was so amped to read this book when I first heard about it. There were a lot of moments when I felt like the text transported me to California with Avery's inner circle and to my own childhood which is so similar to Avery's that I think that's what really endears me to the book as a whole. Then there were a lot of moments when I was ready for it to end and getting a little antsy like a two year old made to sit still for more than 30 minutes. The best parts about this book are the characters. They are all fully-fleshed out. They're horrible sometimes, but they're realistic. The themes are interesting too, which I didn't think about until a few days after I finished the book. The bond between kindred spirits/friends vs family vs romantic partners; your real self vs who people conceive you to be; the way your past and the past actions of those close to you always kind of haunts you and hangs around. The exploration of these themes is interesting and something that Dana Johnson does really well. There isn't really anything bad about it. One of the main plots (or I guess it's the only plot) concerning Keith seems awkward and unnecessary (so much so that I had to try really hard not to skip those parts), but I guess there's a reason for everything.

  • Morgan Miller-Portales
    2019-03-12 14:04

    ‘Elsewhere, California’, Dana Johnson’s debut novel is contemplative literary fiction at its best. Leaving behind the land of opportunity story arc in favour of an alternate narrative in which the central protagonist, Avery, oscillates between who she has become and who she once was, Johnson creates a pitch-perfect world in which everyday racism, class issues and violence are salient tropes that transcend life itself. Drawing on a bewildering range of narrative mechanisms, this novel is fraught with voices, which will stay with you long after you have finished this beautiful novel.

  • Jenny Shank
    2019-03-06 09:52 the road and a world away: A review of Elsewhere, CaliforniaREVIEW - From the December 10, 2012 High Country News issueBy Jenny ShankElsewhere, CaliforniaDana Johnson276 pages, softcover: $15.95.Counterpoint, 2012.Dana Johnson's thoughtful and affecting first novel, Elsewhere, California, is narrated by a girl named Avery, whom we first meet as a child growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the '70s and '80s. When her brother is threatened by gangs, their parents decide to move to the suburbs. Avery eagerly prepares for the "long journey" to West Covina. Her father responds, "Journey? It ain't but thirty minutes up the road." But Avery learns that however short the distance, West Covina might as well be another planet.The chapters alternate between Avery's childhood and her life as an adult, when she has become an artist, living with Massimo, an older Italian man, in his swanky Hollywood house and looking forward to an exhibition of her art at a Los Angeles gallery.Avery's language deftly evolves throughout the course of the book. Johnson writes the early chapters in the voice Avery used as a young child -- "We caint go tricka treating. The Crips went and shot somebody and the Bloods done shot em back" -- while the later chapters show the way Avery has learned to speak as a successful black woman trying to move smoothly between society's layers, a knack her best friend Brenna calls her "blendability."The young Avery, a sensitive, baseball-loving girl, is tortured by her awkwardness. She struggles to fit into whiter and more-affluent West Covina, where she cannot afford the right clothes. "I'm tired of being called Imitation … Because everything I wear is like something else but not the actual thing it's supposed to be. My Izod shirt really isn't Izod Lacoste. It's got a horse on it instead of a crocodile." Meanwhile, Brenna, her bold white friend, leads the way toward mischief, and Avery's favorite cousin Keith follows.Although Avery graduates from USC and becomes the kind of person others laud as a success story –– "an affirmative action baby" –– she never ceases to be haunted by the dissonance between her past and present. Keith continues his criminal ways even as an adult, and although Massimo tries to convince Avery to forget him, it's clear by the end of the book why she cannot.This winning novel is replete with wise and poignant observations. At one point Avery explains that art "only has value if the right people say it has value." Elsewhere, California is valuable art indeed, full of heart, wit and insights about family, race, class and the Golden State.

  • M R
    2019-03-12 12:40

    I thought this was a great book that looked at the dichotomies that exist within us all, but especially African American women. We see Avery as she goes from a young girl that moves from the hood of LA to a suburb in West Covina and how she navigates where she came from, her interests, what she wants to do and everything in between. I did find the sudden switching between present and past quite off-putting initially, but didn't mind it as much as the book went on. It's interesting to watch Avery's growth from someone who Massimo wouldn't even be able to see as a diamond in the rough to who she currently is, although I think that person is in question and constant transition. Even as an adult Ave has not quite figured out who she is or what to do with the experiences she's had and I think that shows up in her arguments with Massimo and her art which seems to be unknowable to pretty much everyone outside of herself and those simply buying her work as a friend/pity. It was quite gratifying though to see a young Black girl who had interest beyond what's considered "Black" and/or girly and acceptable in those veins like reading, (Dodgers) baseball and liking Shaun Cassidy and other white pop stars in Tiger Beat or even enjoying rock/disco/country music. I know that we as Black women are multifaceted, but that's not always played out to this degree in television/movies or even books, so this was a good thing to see, not only in Avery, but in the other women around her like April. I thought it was interesting that the author touched on the subject of white people taking on black culture and it being more "accepted" from them or even more natural seeming than it is on Black people, such as when Keith's friend said nigga and it went unchecked or the fact that Nurse gets to dress like Michael Jackson from Thriller and Avery finds that unimaginable for her to do. Overall, I liked this book and thought it was an interesting an accurate portrayal of growing up (and older) between different worlds.

  • Austin Hubert
    2019-03-10 08:08

    Outstanding and a phenomenal coming of age novel. This work, as was stated by a previous reviewer, is an excellent follow up to Johnson's short story collection, "Break Any Woman Down." The Avery character is extremely complex, and deals with a variety of psychological issues that are dictated by societies dictating of who she is and who she should be and what Avery herself feels she should be, also, stemming from a societal push. The transitional passages between young/developing Avery and Avery as a mature woman is fascinating and real and shows the process of the character's development through her change of speech, the music she listens to, the boys she wants to date, and obviously her thoughts about her own identity, and what feels right to her, versus what society is trying to make her out to be. It's a classic bildungsroman novel and is definitely worth a read. With this work, Johnson not only solidifies her mark as a brilliant short story writer as was exemplified in "Break Any Woman....", but she also exemplifies her ability to keep the literary novel reader intrigued and wanting more.

  • Bill Breedlove
    2019-03-01 13:49

    This book is very well written, voice changes as the main character does, and reflects that without being showy. This is more of a "quietly observed" collection of episodes in the life of Avery, as she ages from girl to woman, artist and partner to a wealthy Hollywood Hills attorney who is first-generation Italian. The pleasure is in the voice and seeing how Avery relates to the various people and situations in her life, where she often seems to not quite fit in with wherever she happens to be. But, it is not a "fish out of water" book at all, it is more Avery's thinking and assessments that anything very dramatic. With its structure and languid pace, and observant eye for details and dialogue, this seems very much a "literary" novel.

  • Shana Kennedy
    2019-03-04 12:41

    Avery is a stranger to me. Her rough upbringing, her cultural-identity issues, the traumas of her friends and family and the contrast with her later ultra-posh life; these all seemed like fairly extreme situations, which I couldn't easily relate to. But she is a complicated character with a compelling narrative voice, and I kept turning the pages, wanting to know more.If I have any complaint, it is the gaps in the story. Though it works well to flip back and forth between the past and the present, the story covers over 30 years, and large stretches of time are just skipped over. I want to hear more about Avery's highschool and college years, about the early years of her relationship with Massimo, and about Brenn's life. I think I would have read this book twice as long.

  • Anastasia
    2019-03-04 10:50

    I think Johnson's work in capturing the experience of being an African-American girl growing up in the largely white LA suburbs in the 70s is powerful and important, but hard to read. I really felt for the protagonist, Avery, who was almost stuck in two different worlds and whose white peers and surrounding white culture nearly succeeded at alienating her from her own blackness. Though technically "successful" as an adult (Avery graduated from college and made it out of poverty), it was still sad to read about her poor relationship with her husband/boyfriend, her lack of passion for her career as an artist, and her continued discomfort with the hybrid space she occupies.

  • Leanderblue
    2019-03-07 12:39

    Started slow but was really good book. I could really relate to main characters' experience trying to fit into a society. The main character tried to live in two worlds. There is the world with her family including her cousin and the world dominant culture where she is trying to fit. The saddest part of the book was the trip to Palm Springs. The other girls didn't seem to care about her as a human being at all. They didn't even care or realize they went to bed and locked her out of the house. This is the reality many POC experience everyday...having society say to you that you would fit in if...Hope the author writes more books. Loved the book!

  • Keith
    2019-03-12 06:40

    Read this in our bookclub. We haven't hit winners lately, but this one is a classic. It is easy to read, yet profound in many ways. The theme is poverty vs wealth and the attitudes one learns as part of one or the other while growing up. It is well written with poignant vignettes of the poor to rich protagonist's (a woman) life. She got into USC because of the program for the disadvantaged students. The book clearly depicts why we need these kinds of programs, even if the right is always against the 'quota system'. The entire book club liked the book. I recommend it highly.

  • Kasia
    2019-03-09 11:49

    Wonderfully written by Dana Johnson - I wanted to read more about Avery and her transition from a poor girl living at 80th and Vermont in Watts to West Covina to her glamorous home in the Beverly Hills in Massimo's house. Gorgeously written! The fascinating linguistic changes that Avery goes through from chapter to chapter. A wonderful Bildungsroman for anyone growing up in the 80s/90s culture of North America. I think this is a book I'll come back to over and over again.

  • Rob
    2019-03-01 05:55

    I enjoyed the read and the jumping back and forth between present and past was a nice dynamic in which the author was able to show the growth and development of Avery. The backdrop of LA and the heroine's upbringing were well written. The only reason for not having a higher rating is because the climax did not get me wondering about how/if it was going to be resolved - it just seemed like one more event in her life (which maybe was the author's point).

  • Channacook
    2019-03-05 13:45

    I loved this book! I love Avery Arlington! Great coming of age and self identity/exploration story. The writing Definitely reminds me of the profound simplicity of authors like Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver. Also as someone who grew up in LA I appreciate how spot on she is with the USC characters and the dynamics between black, white, and (briefly) Mexican children and the imagery of the 80s.

  • Anna
    2019-03-16 05:53

    The narrative travels back and forth through the protagonist's life (early childhood/childhood/adolescence to present day). The writing is well done and reflects the narrator's voice at that part of her life so it was interesting to see it grow and change. The story itself was fine - a coming of age for a young black girl in a southern California suburb, but I'm not completely satisfied. Maybe that's ok, maybe the main character is, in fact, unfinished.