‘Reckless Girls’ by Rachel Hawkins: When “paradise” is anything but

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

With her latest twisty thriller, “Reckless Girls,” author Rachel Hawkins presents us with four young women who end up together on what would appear to be a tropical paradise. A deserted island near Hawaii where the beaches are golden, the water is warm, and the sunsets stunning. With plenty of good food, wine, and charming male companionship, what more could anyone ask for?

The first person narrator is Lux, and while she shares her story openly, we don’t really find out what Lux’s hidden desires and motivations are until well into the story. She’s the only child of parents who divorced, and her mom moved them both to San Diego, wanting a fresh start. That left her father out of her life, and he really didn’t make any effort to see her or be part of her childhood. Then, during Lux’s first year of college, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and Lux dropped out of school to help her. It took three years for her mother to die, and after her death, Lux didn’t feel the urge to return to school. She’s made do with different low paying jobs and working in restaurants. Then she meets Nico. He’s the handsome, fun-loving, and rebellious son of a wealthy family, he’s utterly charming and loves sailing and his boat.

When Nico suggests that she meet him in Hawaii and that they’ll sail the world together, Lux jumps at the chance. This seems like what she’s been waiting for. But when Nico’s boat arrives in Hawaii needing major repairs, they are stuck in Hawaii. Lux is back doing menial work cleaning hotel rooms, and Nico is happily working at a marina. All they can afford is to stay on a mattress in one of Nico’s friend’s apartments. It’s not the glamorous life Lux was expecting. And then she gets fired.

At the same time, Nico is approached by two young women who want to visit Meroe Island. It’s a deserted island with no fresh water that is a few days sail from Hawaii. Lux has the brilliant idea for the fee to include repairing the boat so that after the cruise, she and Nico can resume their plan to sail the world together. The women want Lux to come on the trip as well, and since Nico doesn’t want to go without her, Lux agrees. A week on a deserted tropical island sounds like paradise, right? And Amma and Brittany seem as if they’d be good traveling companions.

After a somewhat perilous few days sailing to Meroe Island, they are disappointed to find another boat already anchored in the bay there. A bigger, richer boat with a golden couple on board. Jake and Eliza seem like the perfect pair, he with a rich Australian accent and she with a posh British one. They are open and generous, sharing their delicious stores of food and liquor. Lux thinks that maybe sharing the island with these two will have its benefits.

The island becomes almost another character as we read about it. There are eerie vibes before they even set anchor. Lux senses somehow that the island isn’t a friendly place, and as they explore it, they realize that it is, indeed, inhospitable. The narration is effective and serves to give us insight into both the island’s visitors and its past. Lux shares her story, past and present, in first person narration, while Amma and Brittany’s past and present are written in third person. The island has its own narration, shared through newspaper articles, emails, and other artifacts. That’s how we learn about its deadly history, where survivors of a shipwreck resorted to cannibalism on the island that lacks fresh water. The jungle is filled with snakes and poisonous plants, and even the fish swimming in the lagoons are reputed to be venomous and deadly if ingested.

Hawkins divides the two narratives into “Now” and “Before” as she slowly reveals tantalizing glimpses into the backgrounds of all the women. We learn not only how Brittany and Amma say they met, but how they actually met. We also read about their travels together through Europe. We know both are nursing a tragedy in their past, but those details are shared slowly. As is often the case in real life, the men in the story control the actions of the groups because they have the power. They are the owners of the boats, and both are the scions of wealthy families. They are the ones with nothing to worry about as they enjoy life on their terms, never having to worry about not having enough money to survive.

This story has been compared to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” and when people begin to disappear or are murdered, we can’t help but wonder who will disappear next. Compulsively reading on and on, we find ourselves hoping to figure out the mystery as to who is behind all the violence. We are especially invested in Lux’s story because of her first person narrative, and we can empathize with her frustrations about Nico and her situation. Hawkins’ writing is taut and incisive as she delivers a story filled with violence and ugliness in the middle of what should be a paradise. The juxtaposition of the cerulean sky, the azure waters, the endless gold beaches, and the shadowy violence that lurks in the dark recesses of the jungle makes the story even more compelling. She asks the important questions: Just what are we capable of when our backs are to the wall?

We find out just what some of these women are capable of, and it’s not what we expected.

Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.