Mary Miller, The Last Days of California, Liveright, 2014

Reviewed by JoAnna Novak

[Review Guidelines]

Is Mary Miller's novel, The Last Days of California, the next book you should buy, read, GIFT—TO a friend/loved one/family member/coworker/CRUSH—THE NEXT TIME YOU'RE AT A BOOKSTORE OR RiGHT NOW (#INTERNET)?

1. Let's start easy. You can't resist:

a. a good coming-of-age story, complete with sexual firsts and bodily changes.
b. an apocalypse tale: weather threats, the specter of mass destruction, and God's wrath.
c. an awkward—but not too scarring—family road trip (as long as there's AC in the backseat).
d. all the mini perks of staying in cheap hotels (bedroom hot tubs, bathroom TVs).

2. Forget the madeleine. Which of the following snacks takes you back (to childhood/last Saturday night/your secret pre-work stop)?

a. Cheese fries: the soggier, the better.
b. Giant pickle: who cares if it's in that uterus bag.
c. Gummy bears: the red ones first, right?
d. Vanilla Frosty: totally trumps chocolate.

3. You're a mind reader and it's rush hour. Unfortunately, your telekinetic powers don't help you avoid a sloggy commute. You board a crowded subway car and find yourself seated next to a random. You realize you two are on the same wavelength when she thinks:

a. "People were always saying the world was small but that was only to make it seem less terrifying."
b. "I spent most of my time, however, looking around at the other families, trying to determine how we stacked up."
c. "I would always be separate, thinking about what expression my face was making, what people thought of me."
d. "It was strange how you could be something and then not be that something so easily."

4. Do you:

a. take the interstate or veer off the map?
b. plug your phone in at the end of the day or—wait, where's my charger?

5. You can't live without:

a. Your sister: she's your best friend, even if you're sometimes sycophantically jealous of her.
b. Your mom and dad: mainly because they got together to make you—and your sister.
c. Eighties movies: who better to crush on than young Kevin Bacon—w/ yr older sister?
d. Your horoscope: which sometimes is actually better than your sister's.



I'm sorry! Every answer leads to yes. The Last Days of California, told through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Jess as she rides with her parents and her older sister to witness the impending rapture, is that rare book that's immensely pleasurable, immensely intelligent, and immensely heartfelt. With biting wit. And snapshot observations of American life (ice cream does make everything better). Imagine white-chocolate-covered Double Stuf Oreos with the nutritional content of dinosaur kale caked with spirulina.