PLOT- David Kukoff's Children of the Canyon, is a coming of age story set in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles during the 1960's and 70's. David, a bright student with aspirations of being a physicist, must first survive adolescence. His divorced parents are a mess, too wrapped up in their own lives to worry about their son. His father, Phil, is a music producer and alcoholic. Carole, his mom, is always on a quest for self-discovery, which ranges from living in an ashram to marrying a republican businessman. David is basically screwed when it comes to decent role models, making growing up; navigation friendships and discovering girls, a very scary proposition.
LIKE - As I sit here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, feeling homesick, I'm desperate for anything that will transport me back to my beloved Los Angeles. In Children of the Canyon, Kukoff has turned the city of Los Angeles, in particular Laurel Canyon, into a distinct character. This story is so rooted in place, that it couldn't exist anywhere else.
After his story, Kukoff has included a series of interviews with local California authors or authors that write about the city. The interviews explore what it means to write about California, especially Los Angeles. These interviews were so insightful and interesting, that I could have read an entire book comprised of them. It was a wonderful bonus that worked with the themes in, Children of the Canyon.
I like stories that take me out of my comfort zone, stories that are dramatically different from my own life, Children of the Canyon, fits the bill. Experiencing David trying to fit in, is cringe worthy. Surprisingly, it was even more so, when he is attempting to bond with male friends, than it was when he is navigating relationships with girls. As a female reader, I found that refreshing, "the teenage boy awkward around girls" is a bit of a cliche. This isn't to say that David has girls all figured out, he doesn't, just that relationships as a whole are elusive to him. He is an only child, so there is no sibling support. As a fellow only child, I could relate to his sense of isolation and being the only person to understand his unique family dynamic.
David also has trouble fitting into places. In Laurel Canyon, he is surrounded by musicians and the counter-culture element. He has a rough time relating to most of the boys who live on his street. The tenuous neighborhood friendships are strained further, when he is sent to a school for gifted children, where the other kids are odd-balls. When David moves into a master-planned community with his mom and step-father, he has a similar disconnect from the kids in this new neighborhood, which is taken further when he meets poor kids who live on the fringe of the community. The driving hope that I had for David during the entire novel, is that he would find his sense of place, both physically and emotionally.
DISLIKE- This is going to sound silly, but there is an factual error in the story that drove me nuts. It's minor and I bet most readers wouldn't catch it, but it ripped me right out of the story.
Early in the book, David's mother takes him to Disneyland, and they have lunch at the Blue Bayou, a restaurant in New Orleans Square, in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Carole has wine with lunch. Wine has never been served in the Blue Bayou. I'm a Disney fan, this jumped out at me. Also, as a Disney fan, this scene just felt under- developed. I understood where they were, but it wasn't well-rendered, making me wonder how well Kukoff knew this particular setting. Although this is minor, the problem is it distracted me for a good portion of the story, wondering what else was accurate, taking me out of the story world.
RECOMMEND- Yes. Children of the Canyon is an engaging story of finding ones place in the world. Kukoff has a strong literary voice, and if you love Los Angeles, this is a must.