By Rachel Hawkins
St. Martin’s Press, 2022
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Review by Linda Henry Dean
The title Reckless Girls blazes boldly across the flower-splashed bright yellow book jacket, as carefree as a tropical shirt. The jacket promises, “Six stunning twentysomethings are about to embark on a blissful, free-spirited journey—one filled with sun-drenched days and intoxicating nights.”
But readers expecting the light fare of a “beach read” in which romantic relationships among two men and four women get sorted out while an exotic tropical island is being explored are in for a much more complex adventure. As the pages turn, Fantasy Island slides into Survivor and maybe even Robinson Crusoe or Lord of the Flies. Will there be a “happily ever after” ending?
The narrator of Reckless Girls is 25-year-old Lux, who has joined her boyfriend Nico in Hawaii where they are saving money to repair Nico’s boat, the Susannah, and then live the carefree life sailing the seas. Following the divorce of her parents and then the stress of her mother’s illness and recent death from cancer, Lux has felt adrift. The handsome laid-back Nico seems to offer her a lifeline. “I hitched onto Nico’s dream because coming up with my own felt impossible, back then. Dreams were for people with money and time, people who didn’t feel hollowed out from watching the only person who loved them die in agony. Dreams were for people who had choices, opportunities. I didn’t believe I had any of these things.” Although Nico’s family is affluent, he appears to want to make his own way, working as a mechanic in a marina rather than asking his family for money to repair his boat.
An opportunity to pursue their dream more quickly materializes when two young women, Brittany and Amma, approach Nico seeking a chartered boat to take them to Meroe Island, an uninhabited atoll about a three-day sail from Maui. The island had been the site of a tragic shipwreck in 1822 whose survivors had purportedly resorted to cannibalism prior to their eventual rescue. Although used as an Allied forces landing strip during World War II, the island had since been basically abandoned except for occasional visits by curious travelers. Brittany and Amma explain they want “something different than what every sorority girl on vacation in Hawaii puts on their Instagram…to spend a little time off the grid.” They agree to pay Nico for the Susannah’s repair plus an additional $50,000 and invite Lux to join the excursion.
The foursome arrives at the island and discover the spotless beaches and lush vegetation they had expected, as well as a luxurious white catamaran, the Azure Sky, already anchored in the harbor. The boat’s owner, wealthy Jake Kelley, and his girlfriend Eliza, introduce themselves and state that they also had come to Meroe just for “a good time off the beaten path.” Soon the six are swimming, dining, and socializing together. A vagabond sailor, Robbie, mysteriously appears in their cove, joins their parties, then disappears within a few days. New alliances form. Some bodies turn up.
Robbie’s comment, “People do what they got to do to survive, you know,” emerges as a unifying thread as Lux gradually discovers who the other people really are and what has actually motivated them to visit the island: “Jesus Christ,” I mutter, trying to make sense of it all, suddenly realizing that I never really understood any of these people, never knew the dark currents floating beneath their playful, shining surfaces.”
Lux tells us toward the beginning of Reckless Girls that her mother had named her after the main character in The Virgin Suicides, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. Eugenides’ Lux, seeing no way out of her trapped and pointless existence, had followed a self-destructive path. Toward the end of Reckless Girls, however, Hawkins’ Lux reflects, “There are always options. Particularly when you let go of the version of yourself that got here in the first place.’ What happened to that passive Lux that had fastened her hopes on Golden Boy Nico?
Author Rachel Hawkins keeps the suspense high until the plot twists explode in the final chapters and epilogue. Then we might remember Robbie’s question, “Who knew you had that in you…?”
Rachel Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs as well as numerous books for young adults, currently resides in Auburn, Alabama. Linda Henry Dean served as Education Director at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival prior to becoming Special Projects Coordinator at Auburn University’s Truman Pierce Institute.