reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
Having not read the lauded A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, I was not sure what to expect with Five Survive but I was pleasantly surprised. Holly Jackson’s latest thriller follows six teenagers as they drive to Florida instead of flying. Packed into a 31 foot RV, Red (short for Redford) is our highly unreliable narrator, along with her best friend Maddy, Maddy’s brother Oliver, his girlfriend Reyna, their friend Simon and Arthur, the only one who doesn’t go to school with them.
Maddy is very protective of Red, and she is the reason they are driving rather than flying, as Red does not have the money to fly and wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. Maddy also makes sure that no one mentions Red’s Mother, who was murdered five years ago.But this may be one trip that Red wishes she had missed.
As the crew of six edge closer to their destination, a campground in South Carolina, they lose cell service and as darkness descends; they get lost. What begins as a terrible night, they also have a flat tire, and must change the tire in complete darkness. With no cell service and a donut replacing the tire, they drive back towards the main road when all four tires blow out. Someone is out there and has shot at all of their tires. Even worse, the stalker knows the full names of every person inside the RV. While using a Walkie Talkie found outside of their RV, the stalker tells them that one of them has a secret and until it is revealed, no one will make it out of the RV alive. In true Lord of the Rings fashion, one becomes a leader and everyone except Red will blindly follow.
There are several well-done multi-layered characters that are truly compelling and interesting and then others we did not get to know very well, such as Simon, who is the drunk teenager with the wicked sense of humor, but didn’t play a strong part in the book. Or Reyna, who is Oliver’s girlfriend, but we never understand why, as he is a horrible, gut-wrenchingly awful person. We don’t find out a lot about Reyna, except she is Mexican and has been cheating on Oliver for a long time. I found it difficult to connect with Red. She clearly has some sort of issue with memory, or as one reader said, ADHD. The curtains in the RV are one of the random things that she focuses on. She can’t remember where she has seen the pattern before and it becomes a focal point for her several times throughout the book randomly. Red seems to have no short-term memory though it is not said in the book, the reader could make a connection to the murder of her mom and the trauma she is still experiencing. Jackson did a great job exploring trauma and guilt and the long term effects of a traumatic situation.
Ultimately, I am disappointed with the secret. The book is fantastic with a fast pace, excitement and that sense of fear readers love when reading a “horror” book. But the secret felt convoluted and a little too out there for a young girl, poor and living with her alcoholic father. Though I will say, I never saw it coming, so the author did manage to surprise me. The ending was beautifully done and I can’t imagine any other conclusion for this book. It was perfect!.