Whenever a book is described as “a beguiling, lyrical, beach-gothic page-turner,” you can pretty much sign me up as interested. I was super excited about Estelle Laure’s Mayhem from the time I read the synopsis on Goodreads. Not only did the book turn out to be exactly the whimsical 1980s fantasy that I hoped it would be, but it’s also a lot more than just that.
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.
Review: Mayhem promises a lot in that short synopsis — the 1980s and beachy vibes and supernatural-esque fantasy AND the power of women and family. Not only did Mayhem follow through on each of these elements, but it provided a lot of realistic and relatable characters in a beautifully picturesque setting in the California of the 1980s. The character relationships are the real stand-out of this story, and the interactions between May and her mother were complicated and sincere and really special. While the fantasy and mystery of the story were also important and well-done, I can’t downplay how important the characters are in Mayhem.
I do feel the need to note that Mayhem deals with a lot of really important and sensitive topics – including physical and sexual abuse. The author notes her reasons and explanation for her use of these topics in a note at the beginning of the story, but it’s worth keeping these elements in mind when deciding whether or not Mayhem is a good book for you!
In short, if you’re in the mood for a family driven story with a focus on women finding their voice and discovering their past — combined with heavy doses of Stranger Things and Stephen King — definitely give Mayhem a try.
Author Bio: 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.
Super special thanks to the author, the publisher, and to Netgalley for providing me a copy of the book for review!