I fell in love with Taylor Jenkins Ried’s novels the moment I picked up Daisy Jones and The Six, falling deeper in my admiration at The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo before finding myself getting the ick at Maybe In Another Life. I do wonder if it’s because I listened to it as an audio book and the dialogue simply didn’t translate as well as it would on paper, but either way, when it came to picking up Malibu Rising, I was apprehensive – but I have to say, Malibu Rising was TJR’s redemption, solidifying her as one of my all-time favourite novelists.
The book catapults the reader into the lives of the famous Riva family, set against the backdrop of 1980s Malibu. With her signature blend of vivid characters, heartfelt emotions, and an acute understanding of human relationships, Reid delivers a story that captivates from the very first page, foreshadowing a fiery narrative you find yourself desperate to burn through.
Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit are the four children of the charismatic but flawed Mick Riva – a musician of Sinatra-style fame who was unfaithful to their mother, June, when his life became a whirlwind of excess, women and fame. The dual-timeline story flits between a day in August 1983 where the now-adult Riva kids, pro-surfers, models and photographers who indirectly piggybacked their dad’s fame, are gearing up for their annual end-of-summer party, to the late 50s/early 60s when Mick and June met, and how he came to be such an absent father.
The novel weaves between the present and the past, offering a glimpse into the Riva family’s tumultuous history and the events that shaped them. The pacing is pitch-perfect, but it’s the characters’ emotional development that really keeps you in the story. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a superpower in which her characters are truly brought to life on the pages, each one meticulously crafted, with their own unique struggles, desires, and insecurities.
Nina, the eldest, is a resilient surfer and model who has taken on the role of caretaker for her younger siblings after their mother passed. Jay is a famous surfer, struggling to find love while battling a career-ending illness. Hud, a photographer, is sleeping with his brother’s ex and is constantly trying to find the right way to tell him, while Kit, the youngest, finds herself trying to break from the shadows cast by her siblings while in a bid to discover her own identity. Even Mick, with all his imperfections, is an intrigue – so much so that each of these people could have their own spin-off book and I would read every single one of them.
Another great talent is her ability to blend the worlds in her books – the web of character connections in her home must be enormous. If you’re wondering why Mick Riva sounds so familiar, it’s because he was the third husband of Evelyn Hugo. And when these crossovers transpire, it makes me want to go and read all of the books all over again to see what I might have missed, soaking up the glitz and glamour of her fictional Hollywood circles with people that feel so real, they could have their own Wikipedia pages and I’d wholeheartedly believe them.
We already know from the very first pages that by midnight the party will be completely out of control, and by morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames, but the build up brings with it anticipation and attention to detail that keeps you immersed in the pages. Even when there’s nothing particularly exciting happening, Malibu Rising is still a joy to devour as TJR transports readers to the sun-soaked beaches of Malibu and immerses them in the world of the Riva siblings so much so that we feel part of it.
Beyond the star–studded storyline, Malibu Rising serves as a lesson in resilience, the importance of family, and the pursuit of authenticity. Each character’s journey is both relatable and deeply moving, making them impossible not to care about and adore.
Malibu Rising is a testament to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s storytelling and the world she has created with her books. With its richly drawn characters, intricate family dynamics, and emotional depth, the novel is the epitome of the perfect summer read and, after her brief appearance in Malibu Rising, I’m off to order Carrie Soto is Back.