Ventura and Winnetka
by J.G. Bryan
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Pub Date 15 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 29 Dec 2023
The author of Ventura and Zelzah follows up that critically acclaimed debut novel with Ventura and Winnetka, a stand-alone work that furthers the adventures of Douglas and his friends as they come of age in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley in the late 1970s.
As seniors in high school, the gang spends their final year before college practicing crazy car stunts, getting high, obsessing about girls, passionately listening to the great rock and roll of the ’60s and ’70s, arguing about the Dodgers and the Lakers, and partying at the prom in powder blue tuxedos.
From a West Hollywood porn theater to a punk rock club in Chinatown to the site of the Manson murders, the Valley boys also begin to spread their wings as they explore the city of Los Angeles, located “just over the hill” from where they live.
Like Ventura and Zelzah, the stand-alone Ventura and Winnetka is a funny, poignant, and nostalgic coming-of-age tale about the relationships of teenagers on the verge of adulthood. The re-creation of the Valley culture of the late 1970s is palpable and magical.
A Note From the Publisher
J.G. Bryan is the author of Ventura and Zelzah, and is a native Southern Californian.
"Coming-of-age in the 1970s is wildly fun and equally fraught. In this stand-alone novel, Bryan revisits the group of suburban California teens he introduced in Ventura and Zelzah (2022) a few years further along their journeys to adulthood. High school senior Douglas Efron narrates in an energetic first-person voice. The car accident that killed Weddy, one member of his friend group, still hurts, but Marco, Weddy’s cousin who attends high school with them, bring reminiscences of him and his love of fast cars. The novel’s busy plot, which follows the young men through their senior year, doesn’t so much surprise with twists as comfort with relatable elements: There’s Douglas’ gig with the school newspaper, the Woodrow Wilson Wire; his awkwardness around first love Natalia even as he finds a more serious and complicated relationship with classmate Annie; and multiple minor capers. These adolescent adventures include a ragtag football game called the Turkey Bowl, desperate attempts to secure fake IDs to see an X-rated movie, and experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Bryan writes with enthusiasm and economy in a voice appropriate to his teen protagonist and packs the story with colorful minor characters on the fringes of the action, like Kenny the Killer, Annie’s ex-boyfriend, and Ms. Pearlstein, faculty adviser for the school paper. An abundance of pop-culture references could also attract adult readers wanting a trip down Memory Lane. Main characters read white. Breezy adolescent escapades in the Me Decade."—Kirkus Reviews
“Ventura and Winnetka is a dead-on evocation of what it was like to grow up in the Valley in the ’70s. The stereo store scene, when the sales guy finally gets to the good speakers, had me laughing out loud. J.G. Bryan gets it right.”—Lou Mathews, Pushcart Prize-winning author of L.A. Breakdown and Shaky Town
“It doesn’t matter that I grew up on the East Coast in the mid-to-late 1970s. What J.G. Bryan captures so faithfully in terms of dialogue and social environments clearly illustrates that no matter where you came of age, 1970's culture was as shared and communal as a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Wine being passed around at a Dave Mason concert.
Douglas, the protagonist, and his motley crew of West Coast pals trip and cavort through cars, stereo shops, sex, record stores, and senior year with a desperate search for truth and meaning. With real life beginning to loom, the stakes grow higher as the ground begins to shift underneath them. Punk rock culture begins rearing its head as the “Me” decade approaches its close and Bryan manages to create a viscerally vivid universe that calls to mind American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and other great cinematic rite-of-passage films.
The dialogue crackles with all of the warmth and authenticity of a record needle searching for that first groove at the head of the album. As the characters begin to come to grips with things like sickness and catastrophic car injuries, it’s as if we get to experience their growth in real-time. I felt like I was riding with these guys, sharing the same laughs and obsessing over the same girls and music.
All that said, it doesn’t really matter what decade you grew up in. Ventura and Winnetka captures the essence of adolescence and teenage struggles, the drama, the camaraderie, and all of the fragile emotions that will always push this age group to the edge.”—Chris Epting, co-author of Dave Mason’s memoir Only You Know and I Know and author of It Happened Right Here: America’s Pop Culture Landmarks
“Throughout the novel, Douglas’ growth as a teen is depicted in great detail. From experimenting with drugs and alcohol to finding his passion in writing and sales, the journey of his development is both captivating and enlightening. J.G. Bryan skillfully captures the dynamics of family, with Douglas’ mother playing a crucial role in supporting him through his trials and helping him overcome challenges. This portrayal of strong familial bonds adds a heartwarming touch to the narrative. . . . . I recommend this book to young adult readers who appreciate romance and stories of high school life, as it offers a thrilling glimpse into the past while remaining relevant to the present.”—YA Dude Books
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Average rating from 3 members
4 stars / This review will be posted on goodreads.com today.
I chose to read this book when I saw the title. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 80s and couldn’t resist a book that was based in my town. While this was the Valley, and not the city, it still was a place I knew well.
The book did not disappoint. With prominent landmarks from those years featured, and a classic late 1970s storyline, I really enjoyed a trip back in time. Bryan captures the feel and vibe of this time period so clearly. Feathered hair, classic rock moving into punk rock, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Douglas is our featured character. He lives in the Valley with his mom and her second husband, and a Sheltie named L. Douglas is finishing up his junior year of high school and looking forward to his senior year. He does a lot of smoking pot and hanging out with his buddies and his girlfriend. There definitely is sex & drugs, which may not be suitable for all audiences.
This is mostly a journal of Douglas’s senior year of high school and what he gets up to. There is no mystery or storyline much other than that. It’s a memoir of growing up during a turbulent time in our nation’s history (though some might argue there really hasn’t been a turbulent time.)
I enjoyed it because I could relate. Not sure how today’s YA audience would receive it, but I really liked reminiscing about the music and the changing dynamics from the 70s to the 80s. Plus this is my hometown, so I remember all the places discussed.
I would recommend this to people who want to take a trip back to the times when things were a little bit easier and less complicated. No smartphones or computers. Cassette tapes and bell bottoms. Disco and rock and punk. It’s a fabulous trip back in time, and I’d read more.
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