A NEW YORK TIMES BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • A profound and singular story about a young woman searching for her place in the world, from one of America’s most original voices—the irresistible story of one teenager’s reckoning with society at large and her search for a personal utopia.
“Effulgent and clever.... What fun.” —The New York Times
Bran’s Southern California upbringing is anything but traditional. After her mother joins a Buddhist colony, Bran is raised by her “common-law stepfather” on Bourdon Farms—a plant nursery that doubles as a cover for a biker gang. She spends her days tending plants, slogging through high school, and imagining what life could be if she had been born to a different family.
And then she meets Peter, a beautiful, troubled, and charming train wreck of a college student from the East Coast, who launches his teaching career by initiating her into the world of literature and aesthetics. As the two begin a volatile and ostensibly doomed long-distance relationship, Bran searches for meaning in her own surroundings—attending disastrous dance recitals, house-sitting for strangers, and writing scripts for student films. She knows how to survive, but her happiness depends on learning to call the shots.
Exceedingly rich, ecstatically dark, and delivered with masterful humor, Avalon is a poignant portrait of a young woman who, against all odds, is determined to find her place in the world and find clarity in its remote corners.
Zink (Doxology) delves into class, art, and American culture in a characteristically witty bildungsroman. The narrator, Brandy, is raised on a topiary nursery in semirural California, where she provides unpaid labor from a young age in exchange for necessities; her late mother's partner, Doug, also works there. Life improves when Brandy befriends Jay, an upper-class kid in love with flamenco, who enrolls at UCLA and crushes on classmate Peter, an East Coast intellectual-in-waiting. When Brandy meets Peter while visiting Jay, the two almost immediately fall in love, and the rest of the novel sets Brandy's rough-cut brilliance in tension with Peter's academic ambitions. She spends less time working for Doug and more time with Jay, sleeping on his floor and helping with film projects. Meanwhile, Peter gets engaged to a well-off woman who promises to make life "uncomplicated." The characters let forth some hilariously caustic barbs against the film program's bland progressive politics, such as when Peter encourages Brandy and Jay to upend a "social change" assignment: "You want to find out how you can tweak speculative utopias to make them palatable to your social-justice-warrior film school, and I think with libertarianism you're on the right track." Even more impactful than the intellectual ballistics is the tortured romance story. The style is all Zink's own, and she's as brilliant as ever here.