Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

My Review:

When I read Taylor Jenkin Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo earlier this month, I thought to myself, “Wow, she’s going to have a hard time writing something as amazing and heart-wrenching as this.” Like the speculative journalists she portrays in her books, I thought, “Hmm, maybe this is her peak, she can’t get it better than this.” Well, fortunately for all of us, TJR isn’t a one-hit-wonder. Like the Himalayas, she’s got a range of characters and plots in her story-telling arsenal.

Now that we’ve established what an iconic writer TJR is, let’s talk about Malibu Rising. It tells the story of the Riva siblings and about their parents – June and Mick Riva. Yes, you read that right, it’s Mick Riva (Evelyn’s third husband). Malibu Rising is about finding family and letting go. It’s about Malibu. “Destruction. And renewal, rising from the ashes. The story of fire.”

Malibu Rising in true TJR fashion doesn’t consist of chapters. Rather it’s bifurcated into 12-hour timelines, effortlessly merged with past anecdotes in chronological order from 1956 to 27 August, 1983. The first part is about preparing for the Nina’s grand end of the summer party which also introduces you to the family, the many firsts of family drama. But it’s in the second part – during the party that the author really pulls off her gloves to make it even more dramatic! What a ride you’re in for then!

Malibu is known for its wildfires, so much so that it is predictable to almost always say that a wildfire is a natural phenomenon. The opening lines of the book refers to that: “Malibu catches fire. It is simply what Malibu does from time to time. Because it’s Malibu’s nature to burn.” What you will find out eventually is the second meaning behind the title and in that moment, I recommend you to flip back to the beginning of the book and re-read the first three pages which will hit hard and it will solidify TJR’s story-telling supremacy.

The story starts on a Saturday – 27 August, 1983 at 7 AM, introducing you to each of the Riva siblings as they came – Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit. Nina is the eldest, a famous model and surfer to the world, but to her siblings she’s their go-to person. She’s the one who takes care of them. Jay is a championship surfer. Hud is a photographer and travels with Jay to every surfing championship to capture him in action. They’re like a double helix. Kit, the youngest of the lot, an upcoming surfer champion and one who is still trying to figure out who she is in the world. I loved reading about the bond shared between them. Their bond of love, of survival and the two things they do to get through the hard stuff:

  1. They make each other laugh.
  2. They surf.

As the day unfolds you’ll get an insight into the heart-breaking love story between June and Mick. It’ll help you unfold the multiple layers of being a part of a family and how it all comes crashing down in one night. My heart broke for June on multiple occasions throughout the book, likewise I felt tremendous anger build up inside me because of Mick. What a pathetic disaster of a human that man is!

Malibu Rising discusses what it means to be family. It also talks about parent-child relationships and poignantly talks about the boxes that our parents give us, each packed to the brim with their experiences, treasures, heartbreaks, guilt, pleasures, triumphs, losses, values, biases, duties and sorrows. It is up to us to choose what of the things we inherit or hold on to from the people who came before us and what of the past, we want to leave behind. If you ask me, I think TJR wrote Evelyn Hugo for her daughter and most probably wrote Malibu Rising for herself.

We know TJR loves her characters because her characters are her story. They are all so versatile – just like her writing – and unique. Each character’s backstory is so worthwhile, even the ones who will be mentioned only once (there were so many additional characters and I feel like TJR might even pick a few of them up for her next book)! I also loved the many cameos from characters of her other books! But what I love the most about TJR books is that they are raw, very raw and in touch with many peoples realities.

The book holds your attention the entire time and is well-paced too. The book is wholesome, it’s complete and it’s perfect! Malibu Rising is the perfect summer read and TJR utterly brilliant in terms of how every character, every backstory and every plotline she writes about comes together to exist in the same universe, how collectively that realization takes your breath away.

I rate Malibu Rising with 5 bookmarks and I would give it many, MANY more if I could. TJR is my auto-buy favourite author for a reason after all. She did not disappoint with her latest and I cannot wait to read her next. I got to travel to sunny Malibu though her story and if anybody could write high-profile parties best, it’s probably TJR. She’s a masterful storyteller and I am one who will read all that she’s got to write.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Hutchinson for sending me a review copy of the book and for giving me the opportunity to review a book by my favorite author. I’d also like to congratulate TJR for this mind-blowing piece of fiction!

About the author

I am Surbhi Sinha aka The Urban Reader from India. A city girl and a regular customer of the world's wordsmiths. I enjoy exploring and living several lives while reading books. A girl who tries to reflect the beauty of simplicity, appreciates the extraordinary magic woven in stories and enjoys exploring the cities. I eagerly look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

You can contact me on my email ->

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