Thursday, February 6, 2014
Book Review: "The Last Days of California" by Mary Miller
Other than their father, it doesn't appear that anyone in their family truly believes that the Rapture will actually happen. Elise, who is secretly pregnant, hopes in many ways that it does come, so she won't have to live with the disclosure of her secret. And Jess isn't sure what she believes, about being saved, or anything else for that matter.
"That was my problemI had no imaginationI couldn't imagine anything other than what I knew. The way time functioned, for example. Minutes. Waiting. How long a day could be. My biggest fear was that things would go on forever and there would never be any end. The idea of forever terrified me, even if we were in heaven and everything was great there."
As her family makes their way across the country, Jess confronts her insecurity with her looks and her body, and her simultaneous envy and relief that guys stare at Elise and not her. She desperately wants something to happen in her lifeshe wants more meaningful friendships, she wants to fall in lovebut in her heart she knows she might not be as ready for these things as she thinks she is. She says, "I didn't know how I could want things so badly while making it impossible to ever get them."
Jess also watches as her parents struggle with their own relationship, with their father's inability to hold a job, their fears about money, and with Elise's erratic behavior. They also struggle with the question of whether the trip will ultimately end in the Rapture, and what will become of their lives if it doesn't occur. Elise can't face the reality of her situation, and isn't sure whether she should keep using her looks to get her the attention she craves. Jess wants things in her family, and their relationships, to remain the same.
"If I wasn't the good daughter, I wouldn't know what I was. I wasn't popular or a cheerleader or a straight A student. ... There were so many things I wasn't that I had difficulty defining myself, especially in relation to Elise, who was so many things."
Mary Miller really told an interesting story, and I found both Jess and Elise's characters to be very dynamicyou knew there was more about them than you first saw. I wasn't sure where the plot would go, and I like the way that Miller ended things, but I thought this was a compelling exploration of how you learn to trust what you know rather than what you're told, and how complicated it can be to find yourself and become comfortable with who you are. This was a really quick read; I read nearly the entire book in about a day.