Reckless Girls Review
By Anna Warkentin
Judging the Cover
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a good book cover. And the book cover design for Reckless Girls by bestselling author Rachel Hawkins pulled me in right away. The bright colors and summery design is offset by an ominous tarp rip that hints to the viewer that all may not be as it seems. I read the Book of the Month edition and the hardcover copy really allows the design room to shine. The colors are saturated and the lines are crisp, both things I sometimes find lacking with cheaper paperbacks. All in all, this well-designed book cover had its hooks in me before I even read the summary, and I can appreciate it even more now I’ve finished the book itself.
What’s the Story?
Fear not! This part of the review is spoiler-free, I won’t say anything that isn’t on the dustcover. I’m never more of a stickler with spoilers than when it comes to thrillers/mysteries, and Reckless Girls deserves to be discovered on its own.
Our main character is a young woman who’s really been through it and is just trying to get by after her mother’s death. Her boyfriend is a sailor from a rich family who is cosplaying poverty for…fun? I suppose? and our plucky protagonist seems to be the only one working towards any sort of future for the two of them.
In a fortuitous turn of events, this pair is chartered for a frankly ridiculous amount of money to sail out to a tiny island (sorry, atoll) for a fortnight. The dark history of this atoll, one of cannibalism and disaster, is brushed off. Indeed, when they arrive it seems to be paradise on earth. But something darker seems to be lurking in the shadows of the jungle, and when a body turns up all the sunshine and salt sours to something putrid. The island seems to have a thirst for blood, and there’s no telling how the six vacationers will handle — or survive — it.
My Slightly Spoiler-y Scrutiny
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Drawn in by the beautiful cover and the promise of a locked-room (locked-island?) mystery, I devoured the whole thing in a single day. It was an easy read, with twists and turns that varied from predictable to surprising (but not out-of-the-blue) and a quick pace that kept me turning pages.
Besides the beautiful writing that had me feeling the Pacific island sun despite being bundled inside post-snowstorm, Rachel Hawkins deepens what could be a fun and standard mystery with commentary on grief and class. I often found myself nodding and underlining a line as the main character or one of the other people in the story discussed their experience with grief and the messy journey that is recovery.
“I thought I was getting better, and the words are pitiful even in the silence of her own mind,” Hawkins writes. “I thought this was over. But she’s beginning to realize there isn’t an over, not really. The waves can just keep on coming like this, and there’s nothing she can do to stop them.”
Several of the characters experience deep grief, and they each try to handle it in their own way. However, grief is not the only theme that Hawkins discusses in Reckless Girls. Class and gender commentary are prevalent as well, although neither goes as deep as I think it could have. Everything said was fairly basic, but perhaps poignant if you haven’t been exposed to that certain thought process before. While I loved the story, I felt there was a missed opportunity to really dig into the meat of the parallels between wealth and poverty that crisscrossed this book, rather than sticking to the surface level.
Besides the basic commentary that I felt lacked substance, the other thing that stopped me from rating this book five stars was the fact that one of the characters died, and just…that was it. It felt like the character had reached the end of their usefulness and had to be removed for the story to conclude, and I found that disappointing. They were one of my favorite characters in the book but they were just discarded at the end, and I wish their death had meant something more.
Overall, though, the characters were decent. The male characters felt a little flat but honestly, after centuries of women being the backdrop to men’s stories, I was fine with that. This may also be a result of getting no chapters from the men’s points of view or about their backstory, which would have just muddied the main story. The women, on the other hand, were far better-rounded and each one was likable in her own way. None of them were perfect, and they were all certainly deeply flawed individuals, but I felt like if I met any of them in a bar we would get along for a night. The choices they made overall made sense, and each one had a pretty interesting backstory and arc.
Finally, the ending. It was satisfying, like the final scene in the movie that plays music while the camera zooms out, and you know that everything is a little changed, a little darker. I annotated while reading, and on page 41 after learning that a Thailand travel guide was the last thing that the main character’s mother left her, I wrote that I hoped the story would end with her getting a ticket to Thailand. The story does indeed end in Thailand, in a way better than I could have imagined so many pages ago.
This beautiful book takes girl power to an extreme. It offers commentary on class finances, gender power struggles, and the process of grief against the beautiful backdrop of a deadly island, and does so in a well-paced and exciting story.
If you’re looking for the perfect book to compliment the beginning of your villain era in 2022, look no further than Rachel Hawkins’ Reckless Girls.
Theme song: Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift (spotify, youtube, apple music)
Title: Reckless Girls
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Length: 309 pages