If you knew the world was going to end in less than a week, how would you spend your final days? Though few people would likely answer that question by piling into a car and taking a road trip across the country, in Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California, that’s exactly what the Metcalfs choose to do. Believing they will soon ascend to their rightful home in the kingdom of heaven, this family of four sets out from Alabama with the goal of reaching California by the end of the week so that they might be among the last people on Earth to witness the impending Rapture.

As with all epic pilgrimages, there are plenty of bumps along the way. For 15-year-old Jess, the end of the world might be a welcome relief given the host of worries she’s juggling. From her exasperated parents, whom she just can’t understand (and what’s worse, they don’t have a clue about what to do with her either) to her beautiful but rebellious older sister, Elise, who smokes and drinks and is also secretly pregnant, Jess has more than her fair share of earthly problems. As the family weaves through the Midwest, each day offers Jess new questions to ponder and new temptations to resist or surrender to. Jess begins to wonder how many other people she can ultimately save if it means losing herself in the process.

The Last Days of California tells a traditional coming-of-age tale within an apocalyptic framework, a narrative marriage that works beautifully. Witnessing Jess’ despair and wonder as she awkwardly lurches through an increasingly foreign world feels like being right back in the middle of one’s own raw, aching teenage years, where confusion and hormones rule and every blunder feels fatal. 

Reveling in the dysfunction of its characters, The Last Days of California is no fairy tale, but it is timely, true and—at times—even a little bit tender. Miller is a talent to watch.

Don't miss our Q&A with Mary Miller about The Last Days of California.

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