by Divya Ann Mathew: Melanie Benjamin’s “California Golden” takes readers on a captivating journey through the sun-soaked landscapes of Southern California in the 1960s, where the thrilling emergence of surf culture intertwines with the complex dynamics of a family breaking away from societal expectations.

At the heart of this novel are the Donnelly sisters, Mindy and Ginger, who navigate the waves of their unconventional upbringing against the backdrop of the burgeoning surf scene. Benjamin skillfully weaves a tale of ambition, sacrifice, and the intricate bonds between mothers and daughters, making “California Golden” an emotionally charged and thought-provoking read.

The narrative centers around Carol Donnelly, a trailblazing female surfer defying the traditional roles imposed on women in the ’60s. As she pursues her passion for surfing, her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, grapple with the consequences of her unconventional choices. The author expertly captures the tension between Carol’s absence, both physical and emotional, and the Donnelly sisters’ quest for identity and connection.

Mindy, the older sister, is a natural in the surf, navigating a world that expects her to conform to societal norms. Her journey takes her from the waves of Malibu to the glittering nights at Whisky a Go Go, and eventually, into the world of celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs and a USO tour in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger, two years her junior, seeks solace in the counterculture of drugs and cults as she searches for her own sense of belonging.

The novel beautifully captures the ebb and flow of Mindy and Ginger’s relationship, reflecting the tumultuous era in which they come of age. As the sisters diverge into separate worlds, their unbreakable bond remains, grounded in the emotional scars of their unconventional childhood.

“California Golden” not only serves as a compelling exploration of the early days of surf culture but also delves into the societal shifts and expectations placed on women during a transformative period. The novel paints a vivid picture of a time when women were expected to fit the mold of Donna Reed, contrasting sharply with the freedom-seeking spirit of Gidget.

In conclusion, Melanie Benjamin delivers an unforgettable novel that combines the thrill of surf culture with a poignant family saga. “California Golden” is a poignant reminder that even against the backdrop of breaking waves, the ties that bind family are as enduring as the tides of change in a society on the brink of transformation.