Saturday, September 24, 2016

*Review* Californium by R. Dean Johnson

Genre: YA Fiction
Published: July 19, 2016
Pages: 352


A coming-of-age crossover novel about growing up, selling out, and fitting in.
     It's late summer 1982 when the Houghton family uproots from Paterson, New Jersey and moves to Yorba Linda, California—the self-anointed "Land of Gracious Living." Fourteen year-old Reece is trying his best to believe his family has come to California for the opportunities it affords and not to outrun a shared family secret, but he's beginning to realize that even his heroes have flaws, everybody lies, and starting a band may be his only chance at salvation.
      With a bullhorn, a borrowed guitar, and his new best friends—Keith, a know-it-all who knows very little; and Treat, a mohawked kid obsessed with obscure albums—Reece starts a punk group of his own.
      While Reece's relationship with his parents suffers under the strain of new jobs, new friends, new crushes, and old secrets, his confidence soars. Even without a gig or a song they can play the same way twice, the buzz about the band is swirling, and it's not until the night of the band's first gig that Reece will fully understand how much of his new home is authentic, how much is artificial, and how some things, like the chemical element Californium, can be both at the same time.


I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

For some reason I had it in my head that this book was set 10-15 years before it is, so there was a bit of a social disconnect for me for a while, until I went and read the blurb again. Things started to make a little more sense then. It was a little surreal for me reading something that really qualifies as historical fiction (in my opinion) that is set at a time when I almost existed. Surely I can't be that old right?

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to be sucked into it and not let go. Neither of those things happened for me. I would have been fine letting my loan expire without finishing it, except that I don't like not finishing books. It wasn't bad, but it was just kind of meh for me. Almost like a boring Dazed and Confused.

There were some questions that I did kind of want to know the answers to, and I am glad I finished the book and got those answers, or at least started on the path towards them, but it wasn't anything that I wanted to know so badly that I stayed up all night just to keep reading.

Overall I give Californium 3 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

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About the Author

I haven't been R Dean Johnson my whole life. My parents named me Robert Dean Johnson, Jr. They called me Bobby. Everyone did until high school when I graduated to Bob. It felt mature, so I went with it. Who doesn't like a guy named Bob Johnson? It's a fine name up until the point you think you might want to be a writer.

I didn't know I'd want to become a writer. In fact, I started college at Cal Poly Pomona as an engineering major who wrote stories rather than doing his physics homework, graduated as a business major who wrote really plot-heavy stories about people who didn't like their jobs as business people, and left an ad agency job in Irvine, CA after four years to go back to school and learn more about writing stories. Good ones. 

It wasn't until a brief stint in the MFA program at the University of Alabama that I discovered my namesake, The Robert Johnson. The guy whose name is synonymous with the Delta Blues. The guy who may or may not have sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads and suddenly started doing things with a guitar unlike anyone else. The guy who died young and mysteriously. How can some kid from Anaheim (yes, home to Disneyland) compete with a guy that dangerous? A guy that cool? Well, I can't. And frankly. publishing anything as Bob Johnson sounds about as real to me as John Doe or Anonymous. So, I have two early publications as Robert Johnson, Jr., and the bulk of my work appears under the name, R. Dean Johnson. 

I hold an MA in English from Kansas State University (Wildcats, not Jayhawks). After that brief stint at Alabama, I went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University (Sun Devils, not Wildcats).  

After teaching stops at Prescott College (AZ), Yavapai College (AZ), Cameron University (OK), and Gotham Writers Workshop (NY), I am now an Associate Professor at Eastern Kentucky University where I teach fiction and creative nonfiction in our low res MFA program, Bluegrass Writers Studio. 

All that, but I'm still just Bob. The guys on my softball team call me Bob. My undergrad and graduate students call me Bob. My wife, the writer Julie Hensley, calls me Bob. Even my kids (7 and 3) sometimes call me Bob. Pleased to meet you, I'm Bob.

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