California Dreaming Book Cover

Beautifully Written Debut Novel

Author: Noa Silver

Sometimes, whether we like it or not, our reading time gets disrupted. We start a book, are steaming right along, and something comes along that makes us put it down. In my world, that can be the death knell for that book. I’ll find myself forgetting who the characters are and where I was in their story. 90% of the time, I do not finish those books.

Noa Silver’s debut novel California Dreaming lives in the rarefied air of that other 10%. This is the story of Elena, an idealistic young woman setting out after college to change the world through poetry. She joins Teach for America and heads to California, where her mother lived in her early adulthood.

Elena’s California doesn’t resemble her mother’s stories and teaching is a harder gig than she expected. California Dreaming follows the evolution of her career, her relationship with her family and friends, and her questioning of long-held personal beliefs and aspirations as she navigates the turbulent years between 2011 and 2019.

The book touches briefly on the #MeToo movement, the 2016 election, California’s heady tech industry, and other topics relevant to the time period. It isn’t about any of them – they are reflected in how Elena relates to her own world.

Normally when I like a book, it’s the characters and plotting that draw my attention. Not in California Dreaming. Honestly, I’m not the demographic for this character and her early adult existential crises. What made me keep coming back to the book, even with interruptions, is Noa Silver’s writing.

Her style is smart and engaging and pulls you into her story. It is a joy to read her elegant prose. She’s not afraid to use her obviously vast vocabulary but knows exactly when to throw in a $2 word and make it fit without sounding pretentious. Every part of California Dreaming is beautifully paced and the construction of the narrative is intentional in a way that makes Elena feel like a real person.

I wasn’t particularly interested in this character and I lived through this time period as a much more experienced adult. I should have been annoyed with Elena, and sometimes I was. Yet I truly enjoyed the book on many levels, because it was a wonderfully written. I mentioned that this is Noa Silver’s first novel. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Check out California Dreaming if you’re interested in coming-of-age stories with protagonists in their 20s written by an author skilled at her craft. I will be on the lookout for her next book.

Sue Millinocket
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