Two sisters navigate the thrilling early days of California surf culture in this dazzling saga of ambition, sacrifice, and the tangled ties between mothers and daughters.
Southern California, 1960s: endless sunny days surfing in Malibu, followed by glittering neon nights at Whisky A-Go-Go. In an era when women are expected to be housewives, Carol Donnelly is breaking the mold as a legendary female surfer struggling to compete in a male-dominated sport—and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, bear the weight of her unconventional lifestyle.
The Donnelly sisters grow up enduring their mother’s absence—physically, when she’s at the beach, and emotionally, the rare times she’s at home. To escape questions about Carol’s whereabouts—and chase their mom’s elusive affection—they cut school to spend their days in the surf. From her first time on a board, Mindy shows a natural talent, but Ginger, two years younger, feels out of place in the water.
As they grow up and their lives diverge, Mindy and Ginger’s relationship ebbs and flows. Mindy finds herself swept up in celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs, parties at the Playboy Club, and USO tours to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger—desperate for a community of her own—is tugged into the vibrant counterculture of drugs and cults. Through it all, their sense of duty to each other survives, as the girls are forever connected by the emotional damage they carry from their unorthodox childhood.
A gripping, emotional story set at a time when mothers were expected to be Donna Reed, not Gidget, California Golden is an unforgettable novel about three women living in a society that was shifting as tempestuously as the breaking waves.
“You can practically hear The Beach Boys singing ‘California Girls’ in this novel about surfer sisters Mindy and Ginger Donnelly and their mother, Carol, a world-class athlete and terrible mom. Fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising will enjoy this story, which shares some of same locales, but the dysfunctional family at its center is one of a kind…. This sun-soaked novel is wonderfully awash in the music, television, and fashion of the ’60s as well as the counterculture movement.”
“Melanie Benjamin pairs the surf culture of the Beach Boys with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of Daisy Jones & the Six…. Benjamin’s novel is a portrait of three women beset by shifting cultural tides and a shimmering rendering of the promises and heartbreak of Southern California.”
“Prolific author Benjamin tracks the diverging lives of the Donnelly women, careening from glamorous Hollywood parties to dangerous drug-smuggling operations to the stifling limitations of motherhood. With the charm and nostalgia of Beth Harbison’s Confessions of the Other Sister and Amy Mason Doan’s Lady Sunshine, Benjamin’s novel also shows what the sun-kissed highlight reels so often missed.”
“Benjamin vividly evokes the squalor and splendor of California surfing culture in this richly-textured novel that explores sisterhood, motherhood, ambition and friendship, with characters who rise alive from the page. It’s rare to find such raw, honest sympathy for human beings and their capacity for mistakes and redemption. California Golden is a breath of bracing salt air.”
—Beatriz Williams, author of A Hundred Summers
“A gripping story about the power of family ties set in the edgy California surf culture and the glamorous and sometimes dangerous world of Hollywood celebrity, California Golden takes readers on an emotional, page-turning ride.”
—Elyssa Friedland, author of The Most Likely Club
“California Golden left me breathless. Against the shimmering backdrop of California’s burgeoning surf culture, Melanie Benjamin explores the bonds of sisterhood and motherhood in an era where society, and its expectations of women, are ever changing. The Donnelly women, perfect in their imperfections, will stay with you long after the last page.”
—Shelby Van Pelt, author of Remarkably Bright Creatures
—Rachel Hanna, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Beach House