Image: A girl with light skin and long blonde hair with blue tips holds a MISSING poster and sits on a rocky beach, gazing at the sun setting over the ocean.

Blog Tour: MAYHEM by Estelle Laure

Welcome to the Mayhem blog tour! My thanks to the author and to Wednesday Books for allowing me to participate. The book comes out tomorrow, so be sure to check it out!

Image: The book cover set against a blue-background. Text: "'A beguiling, lyrical, beach-gothic page-turner.' - Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King. Blog tour: July 7-July 21, 2020. On sale 7/14/20."


Synopsis

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.


Details

  • Title: Mayhem
  • Author: Estelle Laure
  • Cover Artists: Nicole Rifkin, illustration; Kerri Resnick, design
  • Publisher: Wednesday Books
  • ISBN: 1250297931
  • Publication Date: July 14, 2020
  • For Ages: 13-18
  • Category: Young Adult
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.
  • Content Warnings: domestic abuse, rape, suicide, addiction/substance abuse

I’d like to thank Wednesday Books for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Mayhem is a magical, feminist retelling of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, with some elements of Practical Magic thrown in for good measure. It’s a meditation on justice, family, and violence against women that borrows a great deal (and sometimes too much) from its source material, but does so in an intriguing way. Mayhem Brayburn comes from a long line of powerful women. When she and her mother escape from Mayhem’s abusive stepfather, they go back to their hometown and find their family’s matriarchal magic waiting for them. As Mayhem learns more about her mysterious legacy, she gets drawn into a web of secrets, murder, and vigilante justice that has her questioning who she is and who she wants to be.

There’s no way to talk about this book without talking about the parallels between it and the movie on which it’s based. I can’t do that without veering into spoiler territory, so if you want to be surprised, please skip ahead.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE.
Honestly, I’m terribly confused by some of Laure’s decisions in this book. Mayhem states early on that she’s actually seen The Lost Boys, so it makes zero sense that she wouldn’t make a connection between the movie and her life when she moves to Santa Maria. Just like the Santa Carla of The Lost Boys, Santa Maria is the murder capital of the world. Just like in Santa Carla, there’s a popular local musician named Sax Man who has long curly hair, a completely oiled body, and a penchant for pelvic thrusting during saxophone solos. Just like in Santa Carla, there are two paramilitary types NAMED EDGAR AND ALAN FROG who patrol the boardwalk talking about vampires all the time. I mean, come on.

I might have been able to overlook it if one single person had said, “Wow, is Joel Schumacher the mayor of this town or what?” But no one acknowledges the similarities between Santa Maria and Santa Carla in a universe where The Lost Boys exists. It’s maddening. I understand the love for The Lost Boys, I truly do. It’s one of my favorite movies. But I think Laure should have excised some of the more obvious references—the Frog Brothers and Sax Man, for example, add nothing to the plot and only serve as jarring winks to in-the-know readers that don’t fit the tone of the rest of the novel. These characters are the best parts of the movie, but they just distract from the book…when the Frog Brothers and Sax Man are around, Mayhem reads less like a trenchant reimagining of The Lost Boys and more like a disjointed novelization of it.

Even without those characters, the parallels between the film and the book would be impossible to ignore. A single mom and her troubled daughter move to a California town and find supernatural evil waiting for them. The protagonist’s mother gets a job in a video store and is drawn to abusive men. The character correlations are obvious (with similar names to boot): Mayhem is Michael (+ Sam), Roxy is Lucy, Neve is David, Kidd is Laddie, etc., etc. The magical water in the book, with its properties of strength, speed, and near immortality, is just like the blood the vampires drink in the movie. The list goes on and on.

Please don’t get me wrong here: I love a good reimagining. I appreciate a lot of what Laure was going for with this book. A feminist version of The Lost Boys that explores generational trauma and discusses the ways that law enforcement fails victims of domestic violence and sexual assault? Amazing! But I’m flummoxed by the decision to rip tangential characters and famous lines straight out of the movie that inspired ita movie that exists within the fictional universe of the book!! And no one ever stops and says, “Hey, we’re kind of living in The Lost Boys right now, aren’t we?”

The tonal dissonance between the campier elements lifted from the movie and the serious themes of the book (plus the heavy “borrowing” of those elements) are why I docked the rating for the book from a 4 or 4.5 down to a 3.5. While it truly is an enjoyable read and an interesting idea, it makes some bizarre and frustrating decisions. I just think the homage/inspiration veered too closely to copying and pasting at times, and that was totally avoidable.
SPOILERS END HERE. 

With all that said, Laure is a terrific writer. Her prose is lyrical, capturing the essence of each character and their relationships to each other and to the world in beautiful, thought-provoking ways. She understands the horrible ways that abuse lingers in your psyche, changing who you are and how you approach your own life. I’d like to quote her letter to readers regarding some of the harder topics in her book:

I know I’m not the only one who had a scary childhood, and I know I’m not the only one who clings to stories as salve to smooth over burnt skin. I am so sick of girls and women being hurt. This was my way of taking my own vengeance and trying to access forgiveness.

Thank you for reading and for those of you who can relate, I see you and you are not alone.

Laure treats her characters’ trauma sensitively and honestly, and I did feel seen while reading this book. I also loved watching Mayhem come into her own. It gave me hope to see her discover the power of magic and the power of coming from a line of strong women.

Though I wish the author had focused more on telling her own story than on paying tribute to someone else’s, Mayhem is an intriguing novel that will resonate with fans of magical family dramas, violent men getting their just desserts, and damaged characters finding themselves and making peace with their places in the world. It’s a fascinating, poetic, and suspenseful book that has a timely, interesting take on a classic horror movie…I just wish it had relied more on its own vision than on the comforts of nostalgia.


Rating

I give this book 3.5 out of 5 coffins.

3.5 Coffins


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