As if the title alone wasn’t enough to lure me in, the first sentence in the description is The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls and that’s it. I was done!
As a 90’s teen, this book takes everything I used to look up to in the late 80’s and lets me bask in its reminiscent glory. References to black rubber bracelets snaking up arms, Tiger Beat and River Phoenix. Mohawks and mesh shirts and ripped fishnets. This book is everything that shaped me into the goth rebel I am today. Throw in the seriously supernatural vibes and I am trash for this book.
“Santa Maria may always have been small, but it’s never been sweet.”
And seriously, if that doesn’t sound like my kind of town, I don’t know what does.
Mayhem and her mom Roxy find themselves in Santa Maria, the small beach town Roxy grew up in. It’s where Mayhem was born, where her father is buried. It’s the town Roxy was trying to forget.
But the second Mayhem steps foot on the family farm, she feels like she belongs. In a way she never did in small-town Taylor, Texas.
“At night, the boardwalk is different… there’s more underneath it, like it’s all powered by an electric current.”
Mayhem is a story in parts. She’s also a girl in parts. A before and an after. We get snippets from family diaries, tracing the lineage of the Brayburn women and the power they wield back through the generations. But then we get the history of Mayhem herself. What life was like with an abusive stepfather and a mother who escapes inward instead of out.
When they get to Brayburn farm, Roxy’s twin sister Elle has taken on three adopted kids. Neve, Jason, and Kidd. Through them, Mayhem discovers the power her blood gives her, learns how to use it. And may I say, this is my favorite part of Mayhem.
“How do I tell her I don’t want to be an innocent anymore? Innocents get hit. I want to hit back.”
The supernatural elements creep up on you. They’re there, in the open, mocked but with an edge. Are there really vampires lurking in the shadows of the beach? Maybe. But the missing girls are real enough. And this is where Laure brilliantly weaves the supernatural into this world.
This magic is not what I was expecting. It’s subtle but it fits. Mayhem is angry. She’s angry at her mother, angry at Lyle. And this power gives her anger dimension and focus. It gives her purpose. After all, it’s in her lineage to protect Santa Maria from the monsters.
It’s a magic born from violence and baptized in anger. And it’s so deliciously morally grey I want to wrap myself in several shades of it. It’s a magic of want and need, so like the vampire mythology we’re familiar with but in an entirely new context, given an entirely new form. And I am here for it!
“Everything comes with a price. Every victory has a trail of blood behind it. Maybe the sorrow I am dragging behind me means a victory is coming my way.”
Mayhem is a girl I recognize. She’s tired of feeling powerless. Tired of being told who to be and how to act. Tired of watching as good people suffer and bad guys get away with literal murder. She’s tired of hiding. She’s tired of being afraid. Take away the supernatural elements and the message is still the same. It’s about learning how to stand up and fight back. How to lean on people for support, and how their love can only make you stronger.
The supernatural elements of the story are almost secondary. There, but not the point. Except, maybe they are the point. I remember falling into my imagination often when I felt powerless. Imagining what I would do if ever given the strength, the magic, the power to do something about it.
Maybe that is where the magic comes from. Maybe we read about what that could look like and we will it into existence. Maybe we magic ourselves into being the girl who can stand up to the monsters.
“You could be the bogeyman and you wouldn’t ever have to be scared again because you would be the scary one.”
In short, this book is everything I love in a story. The atmosphere is the haunted surreal landscape that The Lost Boys captured so succinctly. It’s light and dark, chaos and order, violence and peace, all wrapped into one.
If I didn’t talk about the plot much, it’s because this book is a fever dream of a journey. We traverse centuries but stay with Mayhem the entire time. We see her past but live her present. It’s a story where empowerment is the point. It’s a story only Mayhem can tell, really, a story you have to experience with her to understand how it all fits.
What I can say is this. If you love haunting atmosphere and a beach scene with serious bite, you will love the backdrop of Mayhem. If you love fierce girls coming into their own, learning how to fight for themselves, their friends, their families, against anything and everything, you will love Mayhem. And, if like me, you remember Tiger Beat and had a serious yet devastating crush on River Phoenix (or the Corey’s for that matter), you will love Mayhem.
Thank you so much Wednesday Books for including me on this tour and gifting me this delicious copy!
Mayhem is out now! Pick up your copy, and a few black, rubber bracelets, today.
The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.
It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.
But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.
But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.
From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.
Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.