Allie Dodgson thought she was doing everything right. The serious daughter of a restaurant owner and a wild tambourine girl, she’s used to towing the line to put herself through college. Misjudging an ex-boyfriend lands her in some financial trouble — which leads her to Jonas, an unscrupulous businessman who sells more than ill-fitting women’s fashions at his Berkeley storefront.
After Jonas refuses to pay Allie the wages she’s owed, a snap decision — stealing a Wonder Bread bag full of his pure cocaine — sends her on the run. With a friend’s fancy car and a hit man on her tail, Allie takes off toward Los Angeles with the vague hope that someone will come to her rescue. She just doesn’t know that person will be her.
Jessica Anya Blau’s The Wonder Bread Summer is a fast-paced, madcap, drug-induced craze of a novel. It’s fun and spunky and really, really wild — crazy, even — which made its illusions to Alice In Wonderland make a little more sense. I finished it in days, unable to put it down, and couldn’t believe the endless pickles into which Allie could catapult herself. But that was much of its charm.
Blau has created strange, effervescent characters that are almost caricatures of themselves. Allie herself is a college student in 1983, the daughter of a biracial black man and a biracial Chinese woman. Her overlapping identities play a large role in Allie’s self-discovery — and The Wonder Bread Summer felt very much like a trippy coming-of-age novel. Its frequent references to drug use and sexual situations might make a straitlaced reader like me blush, but her adventures were compelling and unique enough to keep me reading.
“Unique” is a pretty good summation of this story, which seemed “curiouser and curiouser” until its unexpected close. While I never felt emotionally attached to these folks, that wasn’t really the point. I was along for the ride, and I loved Allie’s odd encounter with Billy Idol and frequent references she makes to her Chinese grandmother’s words of wisdom. Told in all caps, Wai Po’s advice — A SPARK CAN START A FIRE THAT BURNS THE ENTIRE PRAIRIE; IF YOU HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO OFFER, OFFER YOUR SMILE — always made me grin. Despite the messes in which Allie finds herself again and again, we know she has a good heart . . . and that she’s just trying to figure everything out.
Like how to get rid of all that coke.
While The Wonder Bread Summer isn’t your typical “beach bag” read, its sunny California setting and quick pace made for a fun early summer read. Blau uses sparse but vivid descriptions to draw us to her characters, one seriously oddball crew, and I’d recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction, adventure and ’80s-inspired reads.
4 out of 5!
ISBN: 0062199552 • Goodreads • LibraryThing • Amazon • Author Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review
10 thoughts on “Book review: ‘The Wonder Bread Summer’ by Jessica Anya Blau”
I read The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau a while ago and loved it – even though I felt sort of guilty about it considering how wild and crazy it was. I’m excited to see she has another book out.
Wild and crazy is a very accurate description, Tina! I read Drinking Closer To Home a few years back and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as this one. It was more disturbing than it was funny, while I found this one far more funny than disturbing! 🙂
I will have to get her other books too, since I enjoyed the craziness of the Wonder Bread novel. Great summer reads, I agree.
Hi Meg! Now that I’m over on blogger, I have to use the blogger-reply comment system, and did you know that you are a no-reply blogger? I’d love to be able to respond to your comments, so please set up your e-mail address to your account :-). Happy Thursday friend!
Done and done — thanks, Kristin! 🙂
Sounds fun. Like something I would dig. I wonder if it’s on audio.
A trippy coming of age novel? That sounds pretty special, I shall have to keep an eye open for it next time I’m at the bookshop! 🙂
Sounds like an interesting adventure. I mean books at their core are meant to take us out of our comfort zones. And it sounds like this one will certainly take you on an adventure outside of anything that you might have encountered before. Sounds exciting to me.
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I was seriously not expecting to love WONDER BREAD SUMMER as much as I did. Unique is definitely a good way to describe it. I call it quirky 🙂 I’m definitely going to seek out Blau’s other work now!
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