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Perris, California: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

In these times when cruelty, viciousness, and inhumanity rule, we need this book because it reminds us that we can be different, better. This town on the edge of the Southern California desert and her people are both tragic and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Perris, California holds horrors, tragedies, the difficulties of a working- class that lives constantly on the edge of not enough and the frustration of dreams denied. When teenage Tessa shows up on Angie and Buck’s porch in the middle of the night battered and bloody but with a powerful will to survive, they take her in and make sure she will not be bothered again by her assailants. Ten years later, Tessa is pregnant with her third child, living in a trailer on her mother-in-law’s property, and haunted by her past. When her first love, Mel, moves back to town, Tessa must reexamine the life she lives. Moving between 1989 and 1999 and the voices of characters trying desperately to figure out how to love each other well, Perris, California is filled with fire and wisdom, the love slathered onto every lunch and breakfast made, the heartbreak that happens when love is thwarted by hate, and the utter grace of love fueled by the deepest regard of others.

— From Linda's Adult Picks


A glorious will rouse your deepest well of empathy.” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

“This novel will live alongside classics of young womanhood.” —Susan Straight, author of bestsellers Mecca and In the Country of Women

In this unforgettable debut novel, twenty-seven-year-old Tessa, pregnant with her third child and living in a trailer on her mother-in-law’s property, encounters the woman she used to love—leading Tessa to question the very foundations of the life she’s built

Abandoned first by her father and then her mother, as a girl Tessa is left to live with her abusive stepfather and stepbrother. She survives by finding reserves of strength in herself, and by the surprising, transformative love of another teenage girl, Mel, who sees through Tessa’s tough exterior to the vulnerable, scarred, loving woman inside. When she suddenly loses Mel, too, Tessa stumbles into a saving grace of a different kind with Henry and his mama, Angie, becoming a mother and finding herself in a familial existence that somehow carries her into adulthood—until the day she runs into Mel, who has just returned to Perris after years away.

Filled with violence, tragedy, tenderness, longing, and the unvarnished courage of women living in a mostly unseen America, Perris, California is the utterly gripping story of Tessa’s journey from trauma to healing, and it introduces us to one of the most indelible female characters since Bone Boatwright in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina or Ruth Langmore in Ozark.

About the Author

Rachel Stark grew up in Perris, California. She received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from University of California, Riverside, and her master’s degree in creative writing at University of California, Davis. She currently resides in southern Colorado where she writes, runs mountain trails, and teaches yoga.

Praise For…

Advance praise for Perris, California

“An emotionally charged portrait of two women’s painful family histories and their uneasy reunion in California’s Inland Empire . . . Fans of Dorothy Allison or Pam Houston ought to seek this out.” Publishers Weekly

“An extraordinary debut that insists that we can—and must—mend each other.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Some stories grab you, shake you to the core, and never let you go, demanding you to stare into the heart of human depravity and resilience. Other stories capture you by stealth, quiet beauty unfolding in ordinary moments: a conversation ’round a table, the unexpected smile of a neighbor, the wind on your face as you run. Harrowing, evocative, and deeply moving, Perris, California does both. Rachel Stark reminds us that in the smallest acts of kindness center the most enormous acts of love. This is a remarkable novel of human beings fully being—where what we do to each other sits side by side with what we do for each other.” —Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
Perris, California is a remarkable, audacious, and truly original debut. Stark’s characters are incandescent in their fierce desire not just for survival but for love and redemption. This novel will live alongside classics of young womanhood by Kaye Gibbons, Helena Maria Viramontes, Maya Angelou, and yes, Dorothy Allison.” —Susan Straight, author of bestsellers Mecca and In the Country of Women
“Rachel Stark’s beautiful debut novel is a gripping portrayal of generational trauma suffered by women living in rural poverty. But this heartbreaking story is ultimately one of healing and hope as she reminds us of our capacity for forgiveness and understanding.” —Tracey Lange, author of We Are the Brennans

“Perris, California
is a glorious debut from the magnificent Rachel Stark who writes from the soul when she is not writing from the heart. This is a novel set in the invisible America, the land of hopes and dreams if one happens to be lucky. Tessa has bouts of luck and longing, amidst circumstances out of her control. This is not only a story of trauma and survival, it will rouse your deepest well of empathy and have you rooting for a woman you may have never met. You will know her now, in this dazzling debut.” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593656204
ISBN-10: 0593656202
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: March 26th, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English