I read Malibu Rising a couple of weeks ago while laid up in bed with Covid.
I tore through it in a day, good going considering how much I was sleeping. It was the escapism I needed while feeling sorry for myself.
After reading and loving Evelyn Hugo last year, I made a note to read more of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s back catalogue, this is the second of her books I’ve read.
I know Malibu Rising splits opinion, some love it, others hate it. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did.
I have seen so many reviews for this book, I was beginning to think I was the last person to pick to up. If you have managed to avoid Malibu Rising so far, here’s what it’s about….
August,1983, it is the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone who is anyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: surfer and supermodel Nina, brothers Jay and Hud, and their adored baby sister Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over – especially as the children of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
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 of dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family will all come bubbling to the surface.
I know it sounds as though this will just be a story about a bunch rich, privileged, beautiful people bitching at each other but there’s a lot more to Malibu Rising than that.
This is a story about family and sacrifice.
The eldest Riva sibling, Nina, is the centre of this tale. Her tennis star husband has left her, she’s rattling around alone in her Malibu mansion and prepping for her huge end of summer party. An infamous party that’s become legendary over the years, even if it does tend to get out of hand.
The book goes back to Nina’s childhood. She, Jay, Hud and Kit are the offspring of Mick Riva. Mick, incidentally, is a famous singer and one of Evelyn Hugo’s seven husband’s; my memory is shocking so, it took me a while to put two and two together there.
It details how Nina’s parents Mick and June met; her swept up in a fairy tale, desperate to avoid her fate of taking over her parent’s seafood restaurant, he has big ambitions, dreams of being a star and promises June the earth.
Of course, the wheels fall off in a spectacular fashion, and Mick’s behaviour casts a long shadow over the lives of his children.
Malibu Rising is about the Riva children being forced to grow up overnight.
They face grief and deal with the loss of both parents – one who wasn’t ready to be a father and mother who couldn’t accept the love of her life was never coming back and turned to the bottle to cope.
It’s Nina who shoulders the burden of responsibility. Determined to keep her brothers and sister together, she sacrifices her own hopes and dreams and takes on the role of provider and becomes a parent when she’s still a child herself.
The Riva’s may have money, but nothing has been handed to them. Nina’s grafted for everything they have; she’s sacrificed her dream of being taken seriously as a surfer and turned to modelling so others can stay in school and to make sure the family restaurant survives.
On the day of the party, Nina is still putting everyone else before herself, she even talks about hosting it because she knows how much her siblings look forward to it.
She is the ultimate people pleaser.
As a reader, you very quickly a sense that Nina is simply going through the motions, she’s unsatisfied but won’t allow herself to consider what she actually wants to do with her life. That’s what Malibu Rising is about, Nina figuring out who she is and learning to let go of the past.
I loved the bond between the River siblings, I loved how much they cared for each other, how they had each other’s backs even when they were falling out with each other.
The party backdrop was perfect, it worked as a plot driver for the Riva’s confronting their history, their secrets and their feelings towards their father. Plus, it the party itself provided some moments of comedy, it was wild, raucous, a bit feral in places, with wide cast of characters from all walks of life
No spoilers but there were a few moments where I had a sense of dread about how this book was going to an end, after all the blurb told me there was going to be a huge fire, that kept me on edge and kept me reading.
There was a lot more depth to this book than I was expecting. Yeah, it’s a fun read in places but it’s the history of the Riva family that I enjoyed most.
It made me want to visit Malibu, it made me want to go surfing again, it took me to the beach when I couldn’t go anywhere and that was wonderful.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm