Malibu Rising is the story of one unforgettable night, set at a mansion located on the cliff of the beach in 1980’s Malibu. Nina Riva and her siblings throw an epic end-of-summer party that leads each of them to a crossroads that will change their lives forever.
It’s the party that everyone wants to attend and the famous Riva siblings are the people everyone wants to be around. Nina Riva is a supermodel and talented surfer. Her brother Jay is a championship surfer; their other brother Hud is a renowned photographer. The youngest, Kit, is just beginning to come into her own and she’s saying exactly what is on her mind. The Riva siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over, because they are the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
Nina’s pro tennis husband has recently left her and it is public news. Hud has been putting off confessing something to Jay. Jay is anxiously waiting for the girl he can’t stop thinking about. Kit has a few secrets of her own, including someone she invited to the party without consulting her siblings.
By morning, the Riva mansion will have been engulfed in flames and Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit’s lives will never be the same.
It’s August 27, 1983 and you’re invited to Nina Riva’s annual end of summer party. Well, you are invited if you happen to know Nina, her siblings and the address. No formal invitations go out (except for perhaps one, but Nina doesn’t know that). While the action of the novel takes place over the course of one day, half of the story is comprised of the past, specifically the love story of their parents, Mick and June Riva.
Author Taylor Jenkins Reid excels at writing character driven novels and Malibu Rising is no exception. So in 1956 when we meet a 17-year-old June and the then-unknown Mick Rivas, who has aspirations of being a famous singer, heartbreak is a foregone conclusion. After their first kiss, “June Costas was a goner.” A few months later Mick proposes marriage and June’s reply is, “I think I was put here on this earth to say yes to you.”
June doesn’t want to spend her life working in her family’s struggling restaurant and Mick is her ticket to a life she’s dreamed about. She does love Mick, probably too much, and ultimately it will be her downfall. Mick is charming, slick and promises June that he will become a famous singer. Although fame is in Mick’s future, June will not get the life that Mick promises her.
Reid does a successful job in making June a sympathetic character. June’s love for her children is her most redemptive quality. Her love for Mick is her biggest downfall. She tolerates his affairs and even raises a child that Mick has with another woman as her own. Each time Mick desserts her and the children, she keeps going, waiting for him to return to her. Until he doesn’t. Until she can’t.
Of the Riva siblings, Nina, and her dedication to keeping the family unit in tact, shows how her selfless love saved her family, but somewhere along the way, she lost herself. Malibu Rising is full of parallels. At the age of seventeen, Nina is forced into adulthood. Seventeen is the same age that her mother, June, met her father, Mick. When we meet Nina in present day, August 1983, she seems much older than twenty-five.
“Nina was twenty-five now. And that felt young to her because she was so much older than twenty-five in her soul. She had always had a hard time reconciling the facts of her life with the truth of it. Twenty-five but she felt forty. Married but she felt alone. Childless and yet, hadn’t she raised children?”
The theme of family history, inheritance, and how it impacts future generations plays a central role in the storytelling of Malibu Rising. June fears having a future like that of her parents, frying clams in a restaurant and not always making ends meet. Mick blames his childhood dysfunction for what he lacks as a husband and a father. Nina’s husband leaves her in a very public way, just like Mick left June. Nina puts the needs of her siblings above her own, reminiscent of the way June lived for Mick, although Nina’s love is familial and June’s is romantic. Somewhat ironically, Jay inherits a heart condition and the relationship between the two people who created him was itself riddled with heartbreak. Hud exists because of an affair and ends up in a romance with his brother’s girlfriend. Kit, despite never having been raised by Mick, possesses several of his personality qualities, such as boldness and a sense of entitlement to say whatever she wants.
The Malibu setting with its fire and water imagery are present throughout the novel. The opening sentence is, “Malibu catches fire.” The book concludes with the sentence, “The story of fire,” after Nina’s house goes up in flames. Fire is symbolic of many things, including destruction, passion, resurrection and rebirth. Fire has a mixed symbolism because it can represent energy, which can be helpful if it is controlled, but volatile if left unchecked. Fire can destroy everything in its path, but also leave a blank slate for renewal. Water imagery is representative of ease and freedom. The Riva children discover great enjoyment while surfing, and as adults surfing provides each of them with independence, albeit in different ways. Water, however, can also be dangerous and take a life. Water and fire are mutually destructive: water will extinguish a flame, fire will boil water away to nothing.
Malibu Rising is a page-turner that has you rooting for some characters to overcome their circumstances and others that you hope to receive their comeuppance. It’s about family, both what makes and breaks them. It’s about love, both familial and romantic. To read Malibu Rising is to both ride a wave and get covered in embers from a fire.
I picked Sea Breeze as the drink pairing for Malibu Rising. It’s featured in the book as being June’s drink at dinner while she ate with her children. The vodka, grapefruit juice and cranberry cocktail is a coral hue, reminiscent of something you might see at the beach on a summer day.
Sea Breeze Recipe
1 1/2 ounces vodka
3 ounces cranberry juice cocktail
1 1/2 ounces grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1 lime wheel (garnish)
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add the vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice. Stir. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Book Club Questions:
1. Early on (page 31), Taylor Jenkins Reid writes, “Our family histories are simply stories. They are myths we create about the people who came before us, in order to make sense of ourselves.” How does family history shape the lives of the characters in Malibu Rising?
2. Taylor Jenkins Reid has said that she is inspired by time and place. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was set in 1960’s Hollywood. Daisy Jones and The Six is about 1970’s rock and roll in Southern California. Malibu Rising is set in 1980’s Malibu. How does Reid bring 1980’s Malibu to life?
3. How is Nina like her mother June? How is Nina different than June?
4. The novel is bookended by scenes of fire and interspersed with both fire and water imagery. What does fire symbolize? What does water symbolize? What are examples of how both are important to the story?
5. Mick is the villain of the novel. How did you feel about him at the end of the story? Did you ever feel sympathy towards him?
6. Malibu Rising explores the darker side of fame and fortune. What relationship does Nina have with her fame versus that of her father Mick? Versus her husband Brandon?
7. Forgiveness plays very different roles in the characters lives. Both June and Nina quickly forgive their husbands’ infidelities. Jay is eventually able to forgive Hud. Mick is not forgiven by his children. How do you decide when a relationship is worth saving and when it’s time to let it go?
Taylor Jenkins Reid clearly has fun with the easter eggs in Malibu Rising. If you’ve read Reid’s other novels, Daisy Jones and The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you may have picked up on the clues, some inconspicuous, some not.
A few characters at the party appeared in Daisy Jones and The Six, including the drummer Warren Rhodes, the band The Breeze and more.
Mick Riva appears in both Daisy Jones and The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. During and impromptu party that Daisy throws at Chateau Marmont, Mick is by the pool ordering liquor and egging everyone on. He is the third husband to Evelyn Hugo.
Another Evelyn Hugo reference appears early on in. “Apparently, at the party back in 1980, Doug Tucker, the new head of Sunset Studios got plastered and told everyone that he had proof Celia St. James was gay.”