Californium: A Novel Of Punk Rock, Growing Up, And Other Dangerous Things by R. Dean JohnsonCalifornium: A Novel Of Punk Rock, Growing Up, And Other Dangerous Things by R. Dean Johnson

Californium: A Novel Of Punk Rock, Growing Up, And Other Dangerous Things

byR. Dean Johnson

Paperback | July 19, 2016

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A coming-of-age crossover novel about growing up, selling out, and fitting in.

It's late summer 1982 when the Houghton family uproots from Paterson, New Jersey and moves to Yorba Linda, California—the self-anointed "Land of Gracious Living." Fourteen year-old Reece is trying his best to believe his family has come to California for the opportunities it affords and not to outrun a shared family secret, but he's beginning to realize that even his heroes have flaws, everybody lies, and starting a band may be his only chance at salvation. 

With a bullhorn, a borrowed guitar, and his new best friends—Keith, a know-it-all who knows very little; and Treat, a mohawked kid obsessed with obscure albums—Reece starts a punk group of his own.

While Reece's relationship with his parents suffers under the strain of new jobs, new friends, new crushes, and old secrets, his confidence soars. Even without a gig or a song they can play the same way twice, the buzz about the band is swirling, and it's not until the night of the band's first gig that Reece will fully understand how much of his new home is authentic, how much is artificial, and how some things, like the chemical element Californium, can be both at the same time.
R. Dean Johnson grew up in Anaheim, California and now lives in Kentucky with his wife, the writer Julie Hensley, and their two children. An Associate Professor at Eastern Kentucky University, he is Director of the Bluegrass Writers Studio Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing program. His stories and essays have appeared in several jo...
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Title:Californium: A Novel Of Punk Rock, Growing Up, And Other Dangerous ThingsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.7 inPublished:July 19, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143128779

ISBN - 13:9780143128779

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Read from the Book

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***Copyright © 2016 R. Dean Johnson[Opening Act]In the dark, my popcorn ceiling looked like one of those old black-and-white pictures of the moon—all shadowy and imperfect and so real it seemed fake. It didn’t make sense to suddenly be awake in the quiet of the house, and I knew my clock must be in single digits, later than late but still too early to be early. Then the voices came back. They’d hiss like waves at the beach and fade into the dark before I could make out what they were saying. That’s what woke me up. That’s how it all started.For a second, I wondered if I was dreaming. But if it was all a dream, the voices would have faces or bodies; something would be chasing me through quicksand or across a field of wet grass and I’d have no shoes on, just soda bread strapped to my feet and a backpack full of bricks. Nobody dreams boring stuff. That’s why the sheets were up to my chin while I stared at the dark side of the moon, waiting for I don’t know what. The voices to come back, I guess.Then it hit me: If it was half past infinity, why would there be any light at all on my ceiling? So I followed the glow across the room, down the wall, and to my door, which was mostly closed except for a crack just big enough to let in the light that was sneaking down the hallway.I was ready when the voices came back, staring at my door, the hiss louder this time. “Go,” a voice said. “You have to go.”Then, a different voice, softer, like air leaking out of a pipe: “Where can I go, Packy? Tell me.”“Home,” the first voice said. My dad’s voice.“You know the trouble that’ll bring.”“So you bring the trouble to me?” my dad said, louder, almost like he was in the room with me and not just on the other side of my door. “You can’t be here in the morning. You know that.”“It’s the last time, Packy. I promise.”“No, Ryan. The last time was the last time.”“Please,” Uncle Ryan said. “I’ll sleep in the garage. The kids won’t see me.”My dad sighed the way he does when we’re running late for church and I still don’t have my shoes on and he’s about to explode but knows he shouldn’t. “Jesus, Ryan. Why do you do this to me?” It made me feel sorry for Uncle Ryan, the way his voice sounded like mine begging for just five more minutes of catch and my dad saying no.I went to the door thinking maybe I’d tell Uncle Ryan he could sleep in my room. He could get up early and make one of his big breakfasts, like he always did when we’d wake up and some- how he was just there, in the kitchen, scones in the oven, coffee and tea and juice on the table, and him saying, “Happy Wednesday, Reece. How do you want your eggs?”When I opened the door no one was there. At least, not where I expected. My dad and Uncle Ryan were farther down the hallway by the bathroom.“Reece?” my dad whispered. “Go back to bed.”Uncle Ryan looked the other way, like something really interesting was happening just over there, by my parents’ bedroom door.“What time is it?” I said.My dad stepped over to me—put a hand on my shoulder. “Doesn’t matter. We’re all done.”“Can I get some water?”He thought for a second. “Okay. Fast.”The living room and dining room were dark, but light and the smell of coffee were seeping from the kitchen. My mom was there, leaning against the counter, arms crossed with a cup of tea in one hand. She had on her morning robe, pilly and older than me and my brother and sister combined.“Why are you up?” she said, and I told her about the water. She filled a big plastic New York Jets cup for me, said I could take it back to my room, and sent me out of the kitchen. Uncle Ryan’s beat-up army jacket was slung across the back of a dining room chair. His keys were in the front pocket like always, so I fished them out and dropped them into my cup. A little water spilled overand I took a sip before stepping back into the dark hallway.My dad and Uncle Ryan were by my door now, like maybe they were ready to come out of the hallway. “Good night,” my dad whispered.“Good night,” I said to Uncle Ryan. He patted me on top of the head without looking at me, then nudged me into the bedroom.I was up before my alarm, out of bed and through the house. I walked to the kitchen and my mom was there in the same spot, wearing the robe, holding the cup of tea. Like she hadn’t moved.“Get dressed,” she said.Uncle Ryan’s jacket wasn’t in the dining room and suddenly nothing about the night before seemed real. Maybe the voices were a dream. Maybe Uncle Ryan hadn’t been in the hallway.It wasn’t until I was dressed and looking for my shoes that I saw the Jets cup on my nightstand. And there at the bottom, like a sunken ship, were Uncle Ryan’s keys.I slipped on my shoes and grabbed my backpack fast so I could go out to the garage, or wherever, and wake up Uncle Ryan before school. Maybe get him to teach me a new limerick my mom wouldn’t want me to repeat.The thing is, he wasn’t in the garage. He wasn’t in the basement, or on the spare sofa, or anywhere.I ran to the living room window to see if his car was at the curb. It was.“What are you doing?” my mom said. She was standing across the room by the chair where Uncle Ryan’s jacket was supposed to be.“Where’s Uncle Ryan?” I said. “He’s gone.”I looked back out the window, made sure the car out front was a dark blue Oldsmobile, that it had the new license plates with the shape of New Jersey where the dash used to be, and that it had the dent by the front tire. “But his car—”“He’s gone,” my mom said, louder this time. And that’s when I noticed what was missing: Dad’s truck.I turned and my mom was still standing there. Her nose freckles weren’t hidden beneath powder. Her hair, which should’ve been braided or swirled up neat like she was balancing a red Danish on her head, was down and splashing around her face and shoulders like hot lava. She wasn’t rushing around, yelling at Brendan to wake up, telling me to go get Colleen, stepping around my dad while he made breakfast and she packed lunches and asking if he wanted leftovers or a sandwich and he’d better decide right now because she still had to get dressed and if he didn’t want to drop the kids off at school on his way to work everyone needed to get it in gear right now.“Where’s Dad?” I said. “Did he take Uncle Ryan home?”She shook her head and walked into the kitchen. She sat down at the table, wrapped both hands around her teacup, and stared at the tablecloth.I sat down across from her. “Mom?” I said, and you’d think it was the first time she’d seen me all morning the way she looked up at me. “Where’s Dad?”She slid one hand across the table. Without thinking, my hand slid out to meet hers halfway, suddenly wrapped inside and squeezed snug. “He’s looking for Uncle Ryan.”

Editorial Reviews

“Johnson has written a new rites of passage in the Golden State. The boys in Californium are full of American hope and their reckoning is written with vivid care.”—Ron Carlson, author of Return to Oakpine“Californium comes alive through its obsession with detail—not simply in how precisely Johnson evokes the era and locale, but in how details are vitally important to every single character.”—Paul Fuhr, The Live Oak Review