The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0-06-219955-3
Trade paperback, $14.99, 260 pages
If Carl Hiaasen lived in California instead of Florida, he may have written a book like Jessica Anya Blau's The Wonder Bread Summer.
Set in 1983, when I was a few years older than the protagonist Allie Dodgson, the story takes place in Berkeley and Los Angeles. The story opens a bang, with 20 year-old Allie trapped in the back room of the clothing store she works in by the owner Jonas, who is trying to get Allie to snort some coke and take her clothes off. Yeah, it's that kind of book.
Jonas has not paid Allie the wages she is owed, and Allie needs the money or she will be thrown out of college, so Allie takes the Wonder Bread bag filled with coke and runs away. Maybe the coke she snorted altered her judgement, but she does not turn back. Her plan is to borrow her friend Beth's car, and sell enough coke to make the money Jonas owes her. Then she will return the rest of the coke to Jonas and all will be cool.
Well, that was the plan. She finds a surfer who wants to buy some of the coke, but she has no idea how much to sell it for. She goes home to her father's restaurant in LA, only to find it closed. Her mother is a groupie for a has-been rock band, and wants to share the coke with the band.
Allie goes on a double date with Beth and ends up almost overdosing her date- Roger, a paraplegic porn producer. Jonas has dispatched someone to kill Allie and get his coke back, but thank goodness Roger and his kindly minions are there to help her.
Oh yeah, and Allie meets 80s rocker Billy Idol and has a romantic sexual experience with him. (Blau's characterization of Idol is charming. He should sent her a nice gift basket as a thank you.)
There is a wacky premise, a chase across California, guns, drugs, sex, surfer dudes who want the coke, dysfunctional parenting, Allie's Chinese grandmother's wise sayings sprinkled in, and a very nice Hispanic family whom Allie contemplates moving in with permanently. If any of this sounds like something you find funny, then you will enjoy The Wonder Bread Summer. It did remind me of Carl Hiaasen, with its cast of comic characters, some involved in criminal matters.
I laughed my way through this novel, and it's a great, quick beach read. I finished it in two days poolside. It's not a book for everyone, but if you are not easily offended, you'll laugh too. When you finish it, you'll want to listen to Billy Idol while craving some of Consuela's yummy pan de yema and hot chocolate.
rating 4 of 5
Jessica Anya Blau's website is here.