Sun, Surf, and Struggles

California Golden by Melanie Benjamin is set against the vibrant backdrop of 1960s California, where the surf culture is thriving, and societal norms are being challenged. The story centers on Carol Donnelly, a trailblazing female surfer who is both captivating and flawed. Carol’s passion for the waves and the free-spirited lifestyle that comes with it often puts her at odds with her responsibilities as a mother.

Her two daughters, Mindy and Ginger, grow up in the shadow of their mother’s fame and struggle to find their own identities amidst the chaos. Mindy, the elder, yearns for stability and a sense of belonging, while Ginger embraces the rebellious spirit of the times, seeking adventure and freedom. The sisters’ relationship is strained as they navigate the complexities of their upbringing, marked by Carol’s frequent absences and erratic behavior.

Over the years, I’ve grappled with Melanie Benjamin’s writing style. In this case, I appreciate that this novel was based, in part, on real-life female surfers who faced sexism in the mid-20th century. Much of the story is very sad. There are some very interesting historical tidbits about Vietnam. I didn’t know guys would drop acid before they went to the draft board physical so they would look insane.

The family story is moving, but the author tackles too many issues. She does a phenomenal job with her depiction of the surf scene and the period details, but the book was just okay for me. 3 stars.

** Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions expressed are my own.

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