California Golden: Book Review

Let the SoCal sunshine shine upon you when you dive head first into the crashing wave that is California Golden, a new book by Melanie Benjamin. The perfect blend of family drama, women's fiction, and historical fiction, California Golden is the story of the powerful impact of trauma and the fragility of family bonds. I literally could not put this book down, and I know anyone who loves a messy family drama will feel the same way.


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California Golden: Book Review

Quick Look

  • historical fiction + women's fiction + family drama
  • early SoCal surf culture⁣
  • intense family drama⁣
  • coming-of-age themes ⁣
  • full of 1960s pop culture/current events⁣

Pub date: August 8, 2023⁣

Thank you @randomhouse and @delacortepress for the gifted e-galley!

Publisher's Synopsis

Two sisters navigate the turbulent, euphoric early days of California surf culture in this dazzling saga of ambition, sacrifice, and longing for a family they never had, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife

Southern California, 1960s: endless sunny days surfing in Malibu, followed by glittering neon nights at Whisky A-Go-Go. In an era when women are expected to be housewives, Carol Donelly is breaking the mold as a legendary female surfer struggling to compete in a male-dominated sport--and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, bear the weight of her unconventional lifestyle.

The Donnelly sisters grow up enduring their mother's absence--physically, when she's at the beach, and emotionally, the rare times she's at home. To escape questions about Carol's whereabouts--and chase their mom's elusive affection--they cut school to spend their days in the surf. From her first time on a board, Mindy shows a natural talent, but Ginger, two years younger, feels out of place in the water.

As they grow up and their lives diverge, Mindy and Ginger's relationship ebbs and flows. Mindy finds herself swept up in celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs, parties at the Playboy Club, and USO tours to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger--desperate for a community of her own--is tugged into the vibrant counterculture of drugs and cults. Through it all, their sense of duty to each other survives, as the girls are forever connected by the emotional damage they carry from their unorthodox childhood.

A gripping, emotional story set at a time when mothers were expected to be Donna Reed, not Gidget, California Golden is an unforgettable novel about three women living in a society that was shifting as tempestuously as the breaking waves.

My Review

This book is unbelievably good, y’all. If you love family dramas, particularly those centered around mothers/daughters/sisters, then this is THE book for you! It’s the perfect combination of historical fiction and intergenerational family drama, with strong coming-of-age themes. I couldn’t get enough of this book and didn’t want it to end. Speaking of the ending: chef’s kiss!!!

I fell hard for all these characters, but I was drawn to Mindy most. I saw myself mirrored in her character/story time after time throughout the book. Watching her grow emotionally over time was a true joy! One of the aspects I appreciated most was the mother/daughter relationship in the last chapters. The emotional fortitude displayed by Mindy was especially powerful.

The author does a marvelous job of portraying the struggle the women faced breaking into a male-dominated sport, but she also captured that generation of women’s struggle to define themselves outside of the home or the traditional marriage path. There are strong feminist themes in this book, which anyone who gravitates to feminist story-telling will appreciate.

I also appreciated the author’s choice to include the racial elements, cultural appropriation of Hawaiian culture, and the impact of Vietnam in the story. She also does a great job drawing readers into the hazy drug scene of weed and LSD of the 60s. Overall, there are some heavy things in what might seem like a sunny SoCal story about surfing.

My Rating

Anyone who loved Malibu Rising but wanted more from the family drama, this is the book for you. I love Taylor Jenkins Reid and loved Malibu Rising, but this book, dare I say it, is better. 🫣⁣ California Golden is an excellent choice for an end-of-summer book club read, or anytime you need to escape to the sunny shores of Southern California.

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About Carlie

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