FICTION

Mayhem

St. Martin’s/Wednesday Bks. Jul. 2020. 304p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250297938.
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Mayhem Brayburn, 16, knows there was a time before Texas, before her mother Roxy's constant pills, before her abusive stepfather, Lyle, took over their lives—but she's only heard about it in passing. After Lyle attacks them, mother and daughter return to Santa Maria, CA, their beachside hometown that is heavy with memories of Mayhem's father's death. They stay with Roxy's sister and her band of foster kids, Neve, Kidd, and Jason, who sleep all day and mysteriously disappear at night. Mayhem discovers a hidden book of intergenerational confessions that reveals the Brayburn women's curse—magical abilities originating in a hidden cavern and water enchanted by unimaginable pain. When Neve helps the girl awaken her own gift in order to hunt a serial killer, Mayhem realizes too late just what her mother has been running from. Laure's writing is imminent and powerful, drawing in readers with resonant prose, while descriptions of 1987 teen life cultivate a heady nostalgia that belies the community's dangerous undercurrent. In the haze of 1980s splendor and wreckage, the pace sometimes lags around ambient scene-setting and chapters that jump between Mayhem's narrative, and the previous Brayburns' journal entries. There's a content warning for domestic and child abuse and violence, which is mildly graphic and typically referenced obliquely in flashback.
VERDICT Patient readers will be rewarded with a vivid tale that deftly explores pain and empowerment. A compelling, unrelenting work of magical realism that will enthrall fans of nuanced feminist revenge fantasies.

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