Wonder Valley (Pochoda)

Wonder Valley 
Ivy Pochoda, 2017
336 pp.

When a teen runs away from his father’s mysterious commune, he sets in motion a domino effect that will connect six characters desperate for hope and love, set across the sun-bleached canvas of Los Angeles.

From the acclaimed author of Visitation Street, a visionary portrait of contemporary Los Angeles in all its facets, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific, from the 110 to Skid Row.

During a typically crowded morning commute, a naked runner is dodging between the stalled cars.  The strange sight makes the local news and captures the imaginations of a stunning cast of misfits and lost souls …

♦ There's Ren, just out of juvie, who travels to LA in search of his mother.
♦ There's Owen and James, teenage twins who live in a desert commune
  where their father, a self-proclaimed healer, holds a powerful sway
  over his disciples.
♦ There's Britt, who shows up at the commune harboring a dark secret.
♦ There's Tony, a bored and unhappy lawyer who is inspired by the runner.
♦ And there's Blake, a drifter hiding in the desert, doing his best to fight off his most violent instincts.

Their lives will all intertwine and come crashing together in a shocking way, one that could only happen in this enchanting, dangerous city.

Wonder Valley is a swirling mix of angst, violence, heartache, and yearning—a masterpiece by a writer on the rise. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 22, 1977
Where—Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard College; M.F.A. Bennington College
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California

Ivy Pochoda, author of Wonder Valley (2017), The Visitation (2013) and The Art of Disappearing (2009), grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a house filled with books. She was the 2009 James Merrill House Writer in Residence, has a BA from Harvard College in English and Classical Greek with a focus on dramatic literature, and an MFA from Bennington College in fiction.

She played squash professionally between 1998 and 2007, representing the United States during her career. She reached a career-high world ranking of 38th in March 1999, having joined Women's International Squash Players Association full-time in 1998. In her college career at Harvard University, Pochoda was individual national champion in 1998, and led Harvard to national championships in all four of her years on the team. She was also named Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and was a four-time All-American and First Team all-Ivy. In May 2013, she was inducted into the Harvard Hall of Fame.

Ivy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Justin Nowell. (From the publisher and Wikipedia. Retrieved 7/21/2013.)

Book Reviews
A dizzying, kaleidoscopic thriller that refuses to let readers look away from the dark side of Southern California.… Impossible to put down.… It’s the memorable characters and beautiful prose that make the novel so successful.… Unexpected and pitch-perfect.
Michael Schaub - Los Angeles Times

Enthralling.… A compassionate look at the displaced that treats each with respect and humanity.
Associated Press Staff

Incandescent.… Pochoda keeps you guessing while bringing these lost souls wonderfully, intensely alive.

Audacious.… Each character is realized with vivid empathy.… A richly Californian novel, drenched in enough sunlight to illuminate the harshest of truths.
Entertainment Weekly

[A]live with empathy for the dispossessed and detailed descriptions of the California landscape…. But as sympathetic as the characters are, their stories fail to come together as a dramatic whole.
Publishers Weekly

Despite the initial confusion… vivid and sympathetic. Each of the main characters does achieve some sort of peace or resolution by the dark and often violent book's end. —Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Library Journal

Ambitious, absorbing.… Pochoda paints southern California with a vibrant brush, rendering an evocative landscape on which her desperate characters seek out redemption and rejuvenation.

(Starred review.) The gritty lives of Southern California drifters are entwined first by circumstance, then by love and revenge.… Absorbing, finely detailed, nasty California noir.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Wonder Valley … then take off on your own:

1. The novel opens with a naked man jogging through Los Angeles traffic. Other than the simple surprise of it, what does his nudity come to represent for the characters who witness him? How does his nakedness function as a literary symbol?

2. Talk about each of the major characters, starting with Tony. How would you describe him? What has led to his dissatisfaction with life … and why does he get out of his car to chase the jogger?

3. What about Ren, imprisoned since he was 12 years old. How has his time in custody affected him? What has he come to realize about "how breakable people are." What happens when he tracks down his mother on skid row?

4. Then there's Blake: "Sam was fearless. Blake worked hard to be." How does that observation articulate the ways Blake differs from  his partner in crime? Is Blake redeemable?
5. What is Britt hoping to find, or escape from, at the commune? In other words, why is she there?

6. Describe Howling Tree Ranch, including its leader Patrick and his followers — who believe everything he does (dragging a stick through the sand) has mystical significance.

7. Why does Owen want to escape from his parents?

8. All the novel's characters exist at the fringes of society. They are in many ways flawed, broken, even violent. Whom do you find most compelling? Are any particularly sympathetic … all of them, in some fashion … none of them?

9. At one point, a character says, "your story is the only thing that belongs to you proper." Why prompts her to say that and what does she mean? How does that remark apply to all the characters within the novel? What about your own "story"? How many different ways can it be told — and who has the right to tell it? Does your story "belong to you proper"?

10. Wonder Valley might be considered a "quest" novel. How so?

11. While not a mystery or crime novel, how does Ivy Podocha manage to build suspense? Talk about the author's use of plot twists to further her story. In the end, does Wonder Valley live up to, exceed, or fall short of your expectations?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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