Things that Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini

“California girls, we’re undeniable. Fun, fresh, fierce, we’ve got it on lock.” – Katy Perry

When you think of California, you think of that easy breezy place where everyone surfs and eats vegan and worries more about how they’re composting than how people in the middle of the country are starving.

However, California has its own checkered past and in the early 90s you saw something similar to what’s happening in America today. Things that Happened Before the Earthquake takes that slice of time between the LA Riots and OJ Simpson’s infamous white bronco ride to punctuate the life of a family who moved to America to follow that well-known American Dream.

Eugenia is the main character here and she couldn’t be less thrilled to be leaving her home country of Italy to watch her parents try to become big movie producers. Feeling completely abandoned by them in a huge new city, Eugenia sets out to find some small amount of attention. Whether it’s by finding another sexual partner or experimenting with drugs, you see Eugenia struggle to find herself amongst the vast canvas of the San Fernando Valley.

I have to say, it was a little bit played out and cliched. I love a coming-of-age story like the next person, but this story is as old as the decade its describing. I don’t want to be mean here especially when it comes to a book that other people may really enjoy. But I don’t buy the story of a teenage girl who comes to America and making losing her virginity her first priority.

While I was reading, I was thinking about an old friend of mine who reminded me so much of Eugenia. She was always a little indifferent about everything and always a slight arm’s distance away from you. She had a lot of different partners and tried a lot of different drugs only to feel more and more empty and a lot less seen.

Like my friend, Eugenia is trying to speak out here and find her niche, but for some reason her niche just wouldn’t stick with her. Towards the end, I found her to be a little self-absorbed and self-obsessed after abandoning the people who tried really hard to get close to her. If you tried to get near her, it was like approaching lava. The closer you got, the quicker you could burn.

And right when everything felt like it was falling apart for Eugenia, the earthquake of 1994 not only broke the ground in LA but also Eugenia’s frustration with her life. I really wanted the events around that period of time to impact her life, her family’s life, the decisions she made, think of America in a certain way. For an adult literature book, it really was almost like medicore YA.

I’m sorry, I really don’t like being mean about books because I know that authors take a lot of time and put in a lot of effort to write something compelling. I really liked this story. It’s a coming-of-age but in a place where it felt like you needed to grow up pretty quickly. It wasn’t really my cup-of-tea, but it might be yours.

Don’t give up hope for Eugenia, though. She’ll eventually find her way out of the rubble.

Find it on goodreads.com

I received this free copy of Things that Happened Before the Earthquake from Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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