Booked Up

Let’s Go Watch the Rapture

The Last Days of California is a road trip novel featuring a Fundamentalist Christian family.

By - Mar 14th, 2014 11:45 am
The Last Days of California

The Last Days of California

Mary Miller’s first novel, The Last Days of California, will remind you of the turmoil of adolescence and get you thinking about the end of the world. All of this impact comes from a short novel that will conjure up many thoughts from your past. Am I good-looking enough? Will I ever find someone who loves me? What do I really believe about the world? Where do I fit in?

The Last Days of California uses the familiar structure of a road trip, in this case from Montgomery, Alabama to Oakland, California, to challenge our beliefs and ideas about teenagers and people in general. Every character has a secret and judges those around them without thinking about the commonalities of human experience. After all, we can think back on our own youths and remember cruel and thoughtless things we said and did. Miller’s skill comes in making this contemporary story seem universal.

The particulars of this family road trip are unusual. The Metcalf family believes in a Fundamentalist Christianity that seems alien to mainstream America. For the family’s two daughters, 15-year-old Jess and 17-year-old Elise, it means that much of the modern culture and technology they love is forbidden, or at least frowned on. Their father believes that the Rapture of True Believers is imminent and has decided to take his family to the West Coast to witness the end of times from the Pacific Time Zone.

This touch is one of many that lends The Last Days of California its comic and bittersweet tone. Awkward Jess and rebellious Elise try to support their parents and each other in this seemingly insane quest, but begin to crumble under its absurdity. The parents are only slightly fleshed out, little more than the nuisances that most teenagers seem to see. Unfortunately, the pilgrimage is real and the girls are left to make their own sense of it.

The endless miles of interstate highways are well described and become a metaphor for the seemingly endless journey the Metcalfs have undertaken. Wearing the King Jesus Returns! T-shirts that their parents require, the young women navigate the currents of sex, drugs, and unwanted pregnancy. The dialogue between the sisters and with the boys they meet along the way rings true. This is the first novel I’ve read that integrates phone calls and texts as seamlessly as conversations.

Were it not for the sex scenes and drug use, this novel might fall into the Young Adult category. That demarcation has become blurred over time. Adolescence has been a longstanding subject for fiction, from Romeo and Juliet to The Catcher in the Rye. We see ourselves at the beginning of adulthood and ruminate on all of the choices we’ve made over time. While I probably wouldn’t pass this along to any teenagers, I think they would approve. It passes the reality test and typically sounds pitch perfect.

The apocalyptic context of this novel reminds us of the pressures of the modern chaos we have all grown up in. Whether we are young and full of expectations or older and wary of change, the world presents lots of reasons to doubt the future. We revel in tales of the end of time, yet constantly plan for tomorrow. This dilemma is richly presented in this novel from the young’s point-of-view. What will happen to our heroines is unclear, but they share the endless possibilities of lifes that art just beginning. Mary Miller’s real achievement is capturing the immediacy of today’s paranoia mixed with the idealism of adolescence. The Last Days of California is just the beginning for this gifted writer.

Upcoming area Book Events: 

Tuesday, March 18 (7:00 PM): Joanne Fluke, author of The Blackberry Pie Murder at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181

Wednesday, March 19 (5:00 – 9:00 PM): “Diva Night” at The Little Read Book, 7603 W. State St., Wauwatosa. Call (414) 774-2665 to register.

Wednesday, March 19 (7:00 PM): Daniel Tiffany and Anne Shaw Book Release Reading at Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 East Locust Street, Milwaukee. (414) 263-5001

Friday, March 21 (7:00 PM): Liz Czukas, author of Ask Again Later at Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to me at or on Facebook at And good reading!


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