Oceanside author Andrew Roe has written what could be called a pre-apocalyptic novel set in the heady days leading up to Y2K, when doomsday cults were predicting the end of the world as we knew it.
The Miracle Girl is set in El Portal, a fictional suburb of southeast Los Angeles. It's a hard-to-find neighborhood where it's instantly clear whether you belong there or not, but as the name suggests, it just might take you where you need to go.
After a violent traffic accident, Annabelle Vincent has fallen into a coma-like state. The story follows the aftermath of this accident that has also wrecked the marriage of Annabelle's parents, Karen and John. But when visitors to Annabelle's bedside start reporting strange and unexplainable phenomena, people from all over the country hang their hopes and fears on this helpless little girl.
"These things can be explained: the weeping icons, the bleeding statues, the healing of disease, the aberrations of sun and sky and light, the apparitions of Jesus and Mary and Springsteen. Because the answers are there. It's only a matter of knowing how to look, how to see beyond the glow and the primitive need to believe. But wanting to believe doesn't make it true. Truth is what makes it true."
While the novel features a cast of lovable losers and fortune's fools right out of a Nathanael West novel, Roe's takes on hope, faith, and our willingness to believe makes The Miracle Girl a memorable debut.
Oh! You Pretty Things by San Diego author Shanna Mahin follows the adventures of Jess Dunne, a woman who has aged out of the barista racket and finds herself starting a new career as a personal assistant to Los Angeles celebrities.
Mahin deploys her superior powers of snark on this sendup of our culture's obsession with celebrity, but it's also a surprisingly serious rumination on the perils of female friendship—especially when the friend in question is famous.
"But being in Megan's orbit makes my own star shine a little brighter. When she's gone, it's like an eclipse, the dark side of the moon. Am I still shining if nobody sees?"
The story is complicated by Jess' mother, a woman with a fluid hold on reality who never let go of her dreams of being a Hollywood starlet and projects them onto her overtaxed daughter.
Oh! You Pretty Things is also about class, but you'd be hard pressed to find a class struggle this entertaining. When the story prepares you for a Hollywood ending, the long-suffering, acid-tongued narrator ("If I were a cutter, I'd have crop circles on my thighs") brings the funny.
Everything I Never Told You is the devastating story of a young girl growing up during the 1970s in a small town in Ohio. The novel opens with the mysterious death of Lydia, the middle child in a family of five, who drowns in a lake.
Celeste Ng's novel moves back and forth (but mostly back) in time to explore the aftermath of this tragedy and how it came to pass.
"Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter's door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia's duffel bag crumpled on the floor of the closet. Lydia's green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia's bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia."
The mystery slowly unfolds in the weeks after Lydia's death and in the survivors' memories of her last days. As a result, over half the book is rendered in flashback. The book is also somewhat daring in its of multiple points of view as the perspective shifts from character to character, not only from chapter to chapter but from within them as well. In a less skilled novelist's hands, this would feel clumsy and disorienting but Ng acquits herself admirably.
If you're looking for a heart-wrenching read about the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, Everything I Never Told You is for you. Celeste Ng isn't a Californian but she will be at Warwick's in La Jolla on May 14.