Eugenia, a typical Italian teenager, is dragged by her family to a new life in Los Angeles just weeks after the 1992 riots. Her hippie filmmaker parents are in heaven as they try to break into Hollywood. Eugenia and her brother are not quite so impressed.

She flounders in the world of her public high school, where the Bloods and Crips, Persian gang members, and fast food culture reign supreme. As she tries to figure out who she is, Eugenia meets Henry, who runs his mother’s movie memorabilia store, and Deva, who introduces her to the countercultural environment of Topanga Canyon. Just when Eugenia starts to imagine a future for herself, the 1994 earthquake shakes her world down to the foundations.

Things that Happened Before the Earthquake is a beautifully written book, with lush, evocative images and rich cultural details. That did not make me love it. I never connected with Eugenia, and frequently found myself wondering why she felt compelled to do the things she did. And her family—and their motivations—completely baffled me. This is not a bad book, just a bad book for me. The writing is fantastic, but I never connected to the characters, so the writing lost its impact for me.

Chiara Barzini is a writer from Rome who was raised in Los Angeles and lived in New York before returning to Rome. Things that Happened Before the Earthquake is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Doubleday Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Published by Misti Pyles