Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this first novel: it's middle class vs. upper class across Chicago's California Avenue. Dubbed The (Jewish) Connections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
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In Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood in 1979, California Avenue divides the prosperous west side from the struggling east. Langer's brilliant debut uses that divide as a metaphor for the changes that occur in the lives of three neighborhood families: the Rovners, the Wasserstroms and the Wills. There are two macro-stories-the courtship of Charlie Wasserstrom and Gail Shiffler-Bass, and the alienation of Jill Wasserstrom from her best friend, Muley Wills-but what really counts here is the exuberance of overlapping subplots. One pole of the book is represented by Ellen Rovner, a therapist whose marriage to Michael dissolves over the course of the book (much to Ellen's relief: she's so distrustful of Michael that she fakes not having an orgasm when they make love). If Ellen embodies cool, intelligent disenchantment, her son, Larry, represents the opposite pole of pure self-centeredness. As Larry sees it, his choice is between becoming a rock star with his band, Rovner!, and getting a lot of sex-or going to Brandeis, becoming successful and getting a lot of sex. The east side Wasserstrom girls exist between these poles: Michelle, the eldest, is rather slutty, flighty and egotistical, but somehow raises her schemes (remaining the high school drama club queen, for instance) to a higher level, while Jill, a seventh-grade contrarian who shocks her Hebrew School teachers with defenses of Ayatollah Khomeini and quotes Nkrumah at her bat mitvah, is still emotionally dazed from her mother's death. Muley, who woos Jill with his little films, wins the heart of the reader, if not of his intended. Chicago produces a mix of intellectualism and naturalism like no other city, and Langer has obviously fed on that. His steely humanism balances the corruptions of ego against an appreciation of the energies of its schemes, putting him firmly in the tradition of such Chicago writers as Bellow and Dybek. Agent, Marly Rusoff. (June) Forecast: Langer, a former senior editor at Book magazine, paints on a big canvas, making local dramas mirror national shifts, from the rise of the Reagan Republicans to the last bloom of a vital youth culture; fans of literate, ambitious fiction will love this novel. National author tour; rights sold to Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Langer's funny, hyperdetailed, super-sized, circa 1980 debut is not about the state of California but rather California Avenue, the dividing line in Chicago's Jewish Rogers Park neighborhood between working-class and professional enclaves. With an anthropologist's eye, Langer depicts diverse households in distress and transition on both sides of the avenue as he chronicles the comings-of-age of a group of smart-mouthed, free-spirited, and creative teens. Audacious and talented Michelle and her smart, contrary younger sister, Jill, live modestly with their sweet-natured restaurant-worker father, while Larry, a Zionist Jerusarock-jock, is the offspring of two doctors. Then there's the artistic prodigy Muley (whose imaginary cousin, Peachy Moskovich, wreaks havoc), the son of an African American woman who put her literary dreams on hold rather than accept money from Muley's conniving, white, record-producer father. The many-stranded plot evinces deep empathy for teens and a love for pop culture and involves everything from the Iran hostage crisis to masturbation, bad rock and roll, racism, a bat mitzvah, eroding marriages, and dirty tricks at the high school, neighborhood newspaper, and a teen radio show. Although Langer may have aimed for Philip Roth and landed, instead, beside David Sedaris, his novel is smart, affectionate, and uproariously entertaining. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist


School Library Journal
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Adult/High School-The title of this first novel denotes a North Chicago thoroughfare, not the state; but crossing west of California Avenue can be as significant as a transcontinental trek to Rogers Park locals in the late 1970s. In West Rogers Park, neighborhoods are refined and prosperous, and doors are seldom locked. To the east, although the populace is also middle class and also mostly Jewish, the surroundings are scruffier and the atmosphere edgier. Residents remember to lock up, even idealistic young people such as restless eighth-grader Jill Wasserman and her friend Muley Wills, a teenage public-radio personality with an imaginary Soviet defector cousin he calls Peachy Moskowitz. Langer depicts the Rogers Park milieu and the era in loving detail as he follows Jill, Muley, and other intelligent adolescents-and their clueless parents-over two years bracketed by the Iran hostage crisis. With dead-on, deadpan humor, the book skewers social strivers and pompous achievers alike, while maintaining genuine sympathy and respect for the youthful characters' sometimes silly, if heartfelt, dilemmas. The setting will be ancient history to today's teens, and the virtually nonstop cultural references may be mysterious, but the author comes to the rescue with an amusing glossary in which he explains the pop icons mentioned in the narrative and provides translations for the many Yiddish and Hebrew expressions. No special tools are needed to decipher the book's universally appealing themes of growing up, looking for love, and finding one's identity, expressed here with empathy, wit, and irony.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Langer's first novel-which begins in November 1979, when about 70 Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and ends in 1981 upon their release-is a snapshot of life in suburban Chicago. Jill, Lana, and Muley all live in the same neighborhood of West Rogers Park-only on different sides of California Avenue, which divides the middle and upper-middle classes. Jill lives in a small apartment with her older sister, Michelle, and her father, Charlie, who is coping with being a single dad after the death of his wife. Meanwhile, biracial Muley lives with his mom and has never met his dad, a record producer in California. Both of Lana's parents, on the other hand, are still around, as is her brother, Larry, the most orthodox of the Jewish Rovners. The story moves from character to character as one's life intertwines with another's-Muley's mother cleans for the Rovners, while Jill's dad meets Gail, who used to be married to Lennie, who works at the local PBS station with Muley, and so on. A humorous look at growing up in middle America, being Jewish, coping with divorce, having sex, and creating an identity, this novel should appeal to readers of contemporary Jewish fiction and light black humor. For most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/04.]-Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.