Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Book Review
Overview: It's assumed that children of rockstars have their lives made. But that wasn't true for the Riva siblings. Their dad bounced in and out of the picture throughout their entire childhood, leaving their mom alone to care for four children on her single income from working at the family restaurant. The Riva kids grew up with plenty of love from their mother but a complete lack of a father and a shortage of money. Now adults, the Riva kids have leveraged the small bit of notoriety their last name gives them into careers modeling, surfing, and keeping the family restaurant on the Malibu coast afloat. To celebrate how far they've come, they throw an epic summer party every year, and this one is looking to be the biggest yet. Told in alternating timelines between flashbacks to their childhood and the hours before and during the party, the book ends with the stately home on the cliff going up in flames. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 As always, Reid never disappoints with her books, and her characters always offer a high degree of nuance and growth. True to her form, this is a book about highly flawed famous people told through a variety of lenses. While it's written in third person instead of Daisy Jones's signature interview format, Reid retains her ability to look at situation through a staggering number of points of view without losing the story. She's able to slowly reveal facets of characters as it's appropriate to the plot, and she's good at bending your sympathies towards and away from certain characters depending on the time period.
In the flashbacks, the story centers Mick Riva, a transplant to California from the Bronx who's sure he's going to make it as a singer with no real proof of how he's going to do it, and June, the daughter of two struggling restaurant owners growing up in Malibu with a vision for her life beyond the restaurant. They get married and have kids young, just as Mick reaches the most demanding and pinnacle part of his career. Mick Riva is a hard character to feel for. He gets his dream girl (when he wants her) and his dream career and his dream family (when he wants them). He truly does not care who he hurts until it prevents him from getting what he wants. It's hard to talk about Mick's story arch without spoilers, but he does beg the central question of he book: can fatherhood be continually claimed on a 'when it's convenient for you' basis? What do kids owe their parents? And what does it mean to be a father?
June always wanted kids, and she loved them with her entire heart. But her heart was also broken by Mick's rollercoaster of walking out, cheating, and treating June like she's disposable. His mistreatment of June was nearly more detrimental to his kids than his absence because, even though she gave everything to her kids, Mick limited her capacity to do so. An excerpt on page 31 perfectly sums up their relationship, "The story of June and Mick Riva seemed like a tragedy to their oldest child, Nina. It felt like a comedy of errors to their first son, Jay. It was an origin story for their second son, Hud. And a mystery to the baby of the family, Kit. To Mick himself it was just a chapter of his memoir. But to June, it was, always and forever, a romance."
The children are all central characters in the book that are forced to reckon with huge facets of themselves over the course of the day leading up to the party. Nina, as the oldest daughter, remembers the most of her parents' volatile relationship. It lead to her stepping up to be the adult while still a child, and it also taught her to compromise her needs and be agreeable as a way of being helpful. Nina has never made a single choice in her life for herself, and the party and her crumbling marriage forces her to finally confront that. Nina is a foil to her mother's story, at a juncture of accepting her husband's affair to maintain the status quo or breaking the cycle to stand up for herself.
Jay and Hud are basically twins, but they aren't. Hud is a month younger than Jay, and though June raised him like her own, he was the product of his father's first affair gone wrong. Still, they've grown up as one unit. Jay is a championship surfer, but he's facing a health issue that might take it all away. Hud has gone out on a limb for love and finds himself wedged between his own desires and his family. Jay has to answer a question of his father's past. He has to decide if he'll let the fame and glory possibly take everything from him. And Hud (SPOILER to end of paragraph) is faced with his father's predicament of becoming a young father. Will he repeat his father's cycle of anguish or truly step up for his child?
Then there's Kit who has no memory of her father. She's a talented surfer like her siblings, but she doesn't have the same level of recognition yet. She's quick and outspoken and forms sharp opinions in a flash. Kit is in search of a direction and clarity on some truths brewing under the surface that she's not quite ready to confront.
More than anything, though, the Riva siblings are fiercely loyal and united, even without parents to guide them, and that truth never becomes less heartwarming. There are so many other characters who bounce into the story and add their lens that it's impossible to cover all of them, yet everyone even casually mentioned has an incredible amount of depth that makes the world feel incredibly real.
Plot: 5 Reid always impresses me with her plotting skills. For a regular work of fiction, she plots everything out to the level of a mystery novel. Every small reference reappears later, every action has a profound reaction. Nothing is ever left hanging, and her endings are always extremely satisfying for that reason. You're always left with your jaw hanging open at the end but also with a sense of satisfaction that there is a certain amount of resolution for everyone. It all snaps together in the most perfect, rewarding way. This is also a great blueprint for any 24 hour novel.
Writing: 5 Reid is an incredible writer and one of the few for me that has totally lived up to the hype. I can't get enough of her books. Her characters and plot are amazing, but she also has a gift of blending the fictional and real worlds so that you don't have to suspend disbelief to get totally invested in the book. Her existing characters slip into the times she writes about, and the world is rich enough to fully support the characterization and plot points. I read this book in two days after taking a mini reading break, and I never wanted to put it down even when the oversized hardcover format made my wrist hurt. This might be a good one to invest in on Kindle because it is heavy.
More by Taylor Jenkins Reid:
More on Reading, Writing, and Me: