Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

by Heather Caliendo
Malibu Rising Book Cover By Taylor Jenkins Reid

Editorial note: I received a copy of Malibu Rising in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an engaging novel that will stick with you long after you finish the last page.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favorite authors—I’ve read every single one of her books. My favorites of hers are Daisy Jones & the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. She has a way of writing stories and characters that really resonate and leave an emotional impact. I remember finishing Daisy Jones and thinking—what do I do now? What book will top this one?

That said, when I read the synopsis for Malibu Rising, I didn’t want to set my expectations too high. I thought it was going to be one of those stories that’s just all about rich, famous kids and their problems. Maybe even a bit too superficial for my taste. Whew, I was off-base with that. Yes, the siblings are famous, due to their musician father and their own talents, but there is so much more going on in this story. I should have known that Taylor would find a way to make this subject matter so heartfelt and impactful. Malibu Rising will be another big hit.

I just love her writing. Can she just write a book a year, please?

The synopsis

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.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.

The siblings

Oftentimes when writers feature siblings as the main feature of the story—it’s very fragmented and complicated. Which makes sense as siblings don’t always get along as easily as parents hope. But I think this is one of the first ones I’ve read in a while where the siblings are such a tight-knit pack. I absolutely adored the different relationships among these four siblings and feel that Taylor fleshed out each as distinct and interesting.

Nina is the oldest and she’s seen it all. She was forced to grow up very young and take care of her siblings as a teenager herself. She does her best to try to make everyone around her feel good and safe—and in doing so, she sacrifices her own happiness time and time again. Nina is a surfer but mainly a supermodel who does not feel comfortable in her own skin. She would much rather hide in the background than be the center of attention. I finished the story last night and I keep thinking about Nina and her story arc. It’s so well done. You’ll root for her, guaranteed.

Jay and Hud are the same age and extremely close. Jay is also a famous surfer and seemingly has it all together. But recent news is set to turn is world upside down. Hud takes all the famous photos of Jay and despite how close they are, he’s holding a big secret from Jay. The brothers dynamic is very strong too.

And we have Kit, the youngest. Her siblings still don’t quite believe she’s an adult yet, despite being in her 20s. She’s strong willed and trying to find her place in life.

Despite the fame and money, the siblings are grounded. Most likely because they’ve have been hurt many times.

The parents

The story is told from multiple viewpoints and timelines. We follow the courtship, marriage and divorce of Mick and June. It’s sad to see how the relationship completely fell apart and with that, June lost a huge piece of herself. Mick is the typical selfish rockstar type personality. He thinks he wants a wife and kids but he doesn’t want to put the effort into it—and just can’t say no to the groupies coming his way.

June is a tragic figure. She grew up in Malibu working at her parents restaurant and she dreamed of a life where she could get away from spending her days serving customers fried fish. She thought Mick could provide that. But eventually, she ends up right where she started. Despite her all flaws, she loves her children so much.

Between a troubled mother and an absent father, it does quite a number on the siblings. And Nina especially wonders if she’ll turn into her mother—especially when her husband leaves her for another woman.

It brings up the thought—are children fated to live the life their parents did before them? Or are they able to learn from their mistakes and go in a different direction?

Beyond the siblings and the parents, we sometimes get a look at the different partygoers that attend Nina’s gathering. Those scenes are entertaining and a little more lighter than other aspects of the books. All the descriptions of Malibu will make you want to go there (once it’s safe to do so).

This is another fantastic book from my Taylor Jenkins Reid and will be the talk of the summer reading season. Book clubs will have plenty to discuss. Check out my book club questions here.

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