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Brooke's Pick: California Golden by Melanie Benjamin

Two teens in 1960s California grapple with the unconventional path of their mother, who defies societal expectations as a talented female surfer in the new novel from the New York Times best-selling author of The Children's Blizzard.

Just as kids today are obsessed with the 90s, as a 90s child myself, we were fascinated by the 60s. Melanie Benjamin’s new novel California Golden encapsulates this distinctly unique moment of time by following a mother-daughter surfing trio across this “golden” era.

However, everything that glitters is not gold. California Golden is actually quite a dark, depressing book, probing many unsettling aspects of the decade, including the Vietnam War, racism and cultural appropriation, the role of women in society, and familial discord. Told in three parts, California Golden follows daughters Mindy and Ginger through childhood as they are half-raised by a mother who, frankly, did not want them. A legendary female surfer, Carol Donelly feels like her daughters have held her back from living the life she dreamed. Later in the book, her daughters follow in her footsteps, pursing surfing careers themselves while falling prey to all of the trappings of the 1960s. As the sisters sort out their feelings for their mother and each other amid California surf culture, they battle generational wounds and societal pressures.

A historical novel in the truest sense, California Golden is a revealing snapshot of a moment of time. Melanie Benjamin brings to life a time and a place through her atmospheric tale of the revolutionary 1960s. At a time when women were experiencing promise and placement like never before, California Golden further demonstrates that despite these advancements in society, women still lacked total freedom over the direction of their lives. But at its heart, California Golden is a generational story of family and how the impact of those who raise us is far-reaching and profound.

California Golden is best when it ascribes to 1960s surf culture, bringing to life this niche segment of society amid the roar and upheaval of this pivotal decade. The family relationships, on the other hand, are sometimes slow and plodding, making this novel not as stellar as it could be.

- Brooke, Public Relations Librarian


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