Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: California Golden by Melanie Benjamin


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.


This book is the best hazy summer read with its sunny location in Malibu California, and the late 60s-70s early surf culture.

It is a story of women in the early days of the sport seen through the eyes of two sisters whose mother is at the forefront of women in a mostly male-dominated sport. A mother who is distant both in being around and emotionally when she is.

As you read, you follow the sisters and their relationship with each other. It is a real relationship, with ups and downs in their differences in personality and their abilities on the surfboard.

It is an emotional read, with tragedy and courage. Well written and well-paced. It is a book you will find hard to put down.

This story is unwashed in the history of the 60s and 70s, from the obvious surf culture history to the Vietnam War to the early days of the Whiskey A Go-Go.

I loved everything about it, and def recommend picking up California Golden and spending the day soaking up the sun while reading.

** This book releases on August 8th. Thank you Net Galley and Random House for the advance copy **

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