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Crossing California [Mass Market Paperback]

Adam Langer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 3 2005
Set in Chicago's Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park, this is the story of three families--adults and children alike--coming of age during the tumultuous, turbulent days of the Iran hostage crisis. At the close of the 1970s, the Rovners, the Wasserstroms, and the Wills-Silvermans will have to shed their pasts to cross into that new, shining decade of hope: the 80s.

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From Publishers Weekly

In Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood in 1979, California Avenue divides the prosperous west side from the struggling east. Langer's brilliant debut uses that divide as a metaphor for the changes that occur in the lives of three neighborhood families: the Rovners, the Wasserstroms and the Wills. There are two macro-stories-the courtship of Charlie Wasserstrom and Gail Shiffler-Bass, and the alienation of Jill Wasserstrom from her best friend, Muley Wills-but what really counts here is the exuberance of overlapping subplots. One pole of the book is represented by Ellen Rovner, a therapist whose marriage to Michael dissolves over the course of the book (much to Ellen's relief: she's so distrustful of Michael that she fakes not having an orgasm when they make love). If Ellen embodies cool, intelligent disenchantment, her son, Larry, represents the opposite pole of pure self-centeredness. As Larry sees it, his choice is between becoming a rock star with his band, Rovner!, and getting a lot of sex-or going to Brandeis, becoming successful and getting a lot of sex. The east side Wasserstrom girls exist between these poles: Michelle, the eldest, is rather slutty, flighty and egotistical, but somehow raises her schemes (remaining the high school drama club queen, for instance) to a higher level, while Jill, a seventh-grade contrarian who shocks her Hebrew School teachers with defenses of Ayatollah Khomeini and quotes Nkrumah at her bat mitvah, is still emotionally dazed from her mother's death. Muley, who woos Jill with his little films, wins the heart of the reader, if not of his intended. Chicago produces a mix of intellectualism and naturalism like no other city, and Langer has obviously fed on that. His steely humanism balances the corruptions of ego against an appreciation of the energies of its schemes, putting him firmly in the tradition of such Chicago writers as Bellow and Dybek.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–The title of this first novel denotes a North Chicago thoroughfare, not the state; but crossing west of California Avenue can be as significant as a transcontinental trek to Rogers Park locals in the late 1970s. In West Rogers Park, neighborhoods are refined and prosperous, and doors are seldom locked. To the east, although the populace is also middle class and also mostly Jewish, the surroundings are scruffier and the atmosphere edgier. Residents remember to lock up, even idealistic young people such as restless eighth-grader Jill Wasserman and her friend Muley Wills, a teenage public-radio personality with an imaginary Soviet defector cousin he calls Peachy Moskowitz. Langer depicts the Rogers Park milieu and the era in loving detail as he follows Jill, Muley, and other intelligent adolescents–and their clueless parents–over two years bracketed by the Iran hostage crisis. With dead-on, deadpan humor, the book skewers social strivers and pompous achievers alike, while maintaining genuine sympathy and respect for the youthful characters' sometimes silly, if heartfelt, dilemmas. The setting will be ancient history to today's teens, and the virtually nonstop cultural references may be mysterious, but the author comes to the rescue with an amusing glossary in which he explains the pop icons mentioned in the narrative and provides translations for the many Yiddish and Hebrew expressions. No special tools are needed to decipher the book's universally appealing themes of growing up, looking for love, and finding one's identity, expressed here with empathy, wit, and irony.–Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The day after an estimated seventy Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Jill Wasserstrom paused on the corner of North Shore and California Avenues to contemplate the accuracy of what she had proudly declared to Lana Rovner during recess at K.I.N.S. Hebrew School. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read Jan. 26 2005
Format:Hardcover
With quirky and interesting characters, and a setting in the 70s and 80s, I was prepared to love the novel . . . and I did. Not since Jackson McCrae's THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD or the book YOU REMIND ME OF ME have I so enjoyed a book. The title, like most great books, is somewhat misleading as it's not about the state of California. That said, I was riveted throughout this stellar little gem and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in good writing. CROSSING CALIFORNIA is a keeper.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting characters, but poor story Dec 1 2011
By SBuckle
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was actually interested in every character of Langer's, but their stories were a little too 'real-life' if I may. It was if I was reading about a normal highschool experience. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it didn't provide enough for me. I wanted to see the characters tested more; I wanted to read a story rather than a timeline of a group of mostly average kids that shared similar patterns to the rest of us. Because of this, the book felt 200 pages too long because nothing substantial happened and the character's trajectory was obvious.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and quite different July 28 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I liked this book very much. I felt as if the author were trying to capture some heady California "idea" with the style and pacing of the writing. What I don't understand is why I never heard of this book until I stumbled upon it by accident.
This should be much higher on the list than what it is. Very definitely worth checking out. Also try these books: What to Keep, The Bark of the Dogwood, The Stone Diaries, and Bel Canto.
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2.0 out of 5 stars I don't get it! July 18 2004
By DSP
Format:Hardcover
I had read that this book was supposed to be the "best summer fiction book of 2004". I was eagerly awaiting this highly touted book. What a disappointment! I tried at least three times to begin the book, hoping that i was missing something and hadn't given it enough attention...not the case...i just couldn't connect with the characters, or their self absorbed lives. I gave up. Definitely cannot recommend this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars unforgetable characters July 16 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The structure of this book reminded me of Catch 22. It has short chapters, each told from the point of view of a central character, and the time covers the period from the taking of the hostages to the beginning of the Reagan presidency. Each character is hysterical (and somewhat screwy). And it is not always clear how they will resolve their various hangups. How, for example, will the not-very-good putative lead singer/songwriter of a Zionist rock band ever find a girlfriend? And how will his sister ever manage to have an orgy? And when will the Marxist radical Jill Waserstrom stop blowing off the boy who makes her the most beautiful movies imaginable?
I completely disagree with the negative reviews posted here and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The book is full of dialogue, some quite poignant. There are lots of moments narrated in real time. And I loved the writing -- lively, engaging, and truly funny in a way like nothing I've read since Catch 22.
I couldn't put the book down for two days. I think it's genius.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very Impressive July 16 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I've rarely seen such impeccable character creation. It puts me in mind of Philip Roth. In Langer's case, plot is secondary; the motivation of the characters entirely propels the novel. It's a difficult book for me to review because the setting feels very familiar, having been raised in a largely Jewish community during the 70's and 80's (and, yes, I voted for John Anderson in my junior high's 1980 mock election). So, while I admit to overidentifying with the novel, I also greatly admire Langer's literary ease. I'm thrilled to find a new writer whose next work I can happily anticipate.
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Format:Hardcover
The setting of CROSSING CALIFORNIA initially peaked my interest. I live fairly close to the Rogers Park neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago and have frequented several of the restaurants, parks and schools sprinkled throughout this book. I have eaten at Wolfy's, attended Roycemore School and daily drive past Mather Park. In essence, I cross California Avenue every day. With all that said, I can attest that Adam Langer knows his stuff well. He successfully captured the essence of Chicago.
Set against the city's and nation's social and political upheavals, CROSSING CALIFORNIA focuses on the lives and turmoil of a myriad of characters, mostly Jewish, who reside either to the east or west of California in Rogers Park. Included are oversexed teenagers who constantly buck the system by smoking pot, shoplifting and projecting their voices loud and clear along with their parents who filled with parental ills of their own. Each character is marvelously flawed in their own respects.
The narrative is told from diverse points of view and each are cleverly connected to the others similar to a spider web. Lastly, this book is hilarious and, despite the cliche, made me laugh out loud many times. I found myself astounded by Langer's social satire that was constantly fresh and never stale or distracting. This is a great debut novel by a talented new writer; I will definitely look forward to more works by Adam Langer in the future. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not California, but Chicago July 4 2004
Format:Hardcover
I'll wager many will buy this book thinking it's going to be about California. Not. It's set in Chicago. But I'll also wager that they won't regret their purchase. Adam Langer's book is epic in its sprawl and its sometimes insane attention to detail and the minutiae of his characters' lives, but it spans a period of only 2-3 years (1979 - 1981). Focusing primarily on the members of 3 families who live on one side or another of California Ave, the street that divides a Jewish neighborhood into those of the upper middle class from those of the mostly working class, the book allows us to see all aspects of that important time in America's 20th century through the eyes of a group of teenagers who come together, drift apart, and come together again in a different mix.
Really, really, really, really good.
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