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!