"I can't look at Elle after what she did, and if I have to fight this battle, cleanse my Brayburn blood, I have to do it away from here, where I can't hear the water whisper, where I can't feel it's pull on my heart, nevermind my body."
'Mayhem' by Estelle Laure is credited as being The Lost Boys meets Wilder girls in a supernatural feminist YA novel.
Now.. I haven't read Wilder Girls, it's on my neverending TBR list, but I have loved The Lost Boys since it was released back in 1987, which is also the year 'Mayhem' takes place. It was the summer between junior high and high school for me and I was wildly into music.. pretty boys and girls.. and parties already. Most of my friends were in bands.. or chasing the enchanting characters in the bands.. and I was on the cusp of realizing I would work in and around the entertainment industry for my whole life. In fact, that moment was just a couple short months and one journalism teacher away.
Already, I was enamored with horror and vampires.. but pretty vampires in horror were the quintessential for me. Then along came this film that shook my world. There was a tale to be told, faces I'd never seen before and immediately fell for, and the temptation of mortality. The great moral dilemma.
As fondly as I remember the film, when I read the synopsis for 'Mayhem,' I knew I had to read it.
"He and Roxy met at a bonfire. He was dancing like he was part of the fire."
"He was her true love. That, she knew from the first night they met, from the way he ran at the ocean like he was picking a fight.."
The story centers around Mayhem Brayburn, a girl who along with her mother Roxy, are on the run from a tyrannical stepfather/husband. After years of his abuse, he finally goes too far and her mother takes her and escapes toward her childhood home.
Santa Maria, California may hold all the family secrets that Mayhem has never been able to reach through Roxy, but that's all about to change. There, she meets her aunt Elle's new family, begins to discover what it really means to be a Brayburn, and why her mother remained resolute in avoiding the ancestral place for so many years.
What I love about this story is that despite Roxy's struggling hold on her will and Mayhem's festering anger and frustration, there is a uniquely beautiful mother-daughter connection between them. These women have been through hell already. The result is a sense of fragility about Roxy that Mayhem is desperate to protect. Even in the early moments of the book, her main focus is not herself. It's her mother's safety and state of mind.
Though there are tensions between Roxy and Elle, deep down the theme is the same. Love, family, and loyalty. Women who either are strong.. or trying to remember how to be.. standing together. Not tearing each other down.
"Everything comes with a price. Every victory has a trail of blood behind it. Maybe the sorrow I am dragging behind me means a victory is coming my way."
Elle's kids.. are something akin to Max's boys.. but the dynamic is very different.. and the grip Santa Maria holds on them is not what we knew of Santa Clara either. Honestly, few people in Santa Maria are exactly as they seem and there were times Laure had me guessing at things that I would only change my mind about a few pages later. I will say I didn't get nearly enough of Jason. There's a deep well of character there, you can see it in all the quiet glances and soft words. We get glimpses of it and I loved them, but I feel like it could have been a much richer experience for me.
Another interesting approach Laure took was a narrative shift between Mayhem and entries in a journal passed through the hands of Brayburn women that came before her. Heartfelt writings detailing their loves and losses along the way. Tragic decisions that led to unforeseen outcomes for many of them.. and make no mistake, there are some reckonings coming. The question is how it will all play out in the end.
"You know," she says finally, "you don't get over things like losing your one and only. You just learn to live around the loss."
I had seen another reviewer state that this book was no good. That it was just The Lost Boys flipped and basically copied directly. The idea crushed me because that's not what I got from the summary and obviously it's never what you want from a retelling. You want to see a story from a new perspective, not just a shift in the individual telling it. But they were wrong. Since I knew that was their opinion going in, I even went back and rewatched the film to make sure everything was still fresh in my mind when I got about halfway through the book.
Sure, there are a few moments here and there. The Frog brothers do indeed appear and they maintain the personalities we know, but they really just offer a sense of familiarity. There is a quote near the end of the book that is directly taken from the film, but the references are used sparingly. Locations like the cliffs, some atmospheric similarities.. those appear as well, but more like landmarks orienting you to where you are in the story.. tethering you between the two tellings.. and holding you suspended in a state that is like a memory that never was.
I can't say enough good things about this story. Give it a chance, you'll be so glad you picked it up.