‘Reckless Girls’ by Rachel Hawkins: A slow descent into madness amidst a tropical backdrop

Our Reckless Girls book review dives into Rachel Hawkins’ latest thriller, where a beautiful tropical island is hiding much more than anyone realizes.

This book was pitched to me as a “deliciously wicked gothic suspense,” and I’ll admit that I was sold right away. If a book has the word “gothic” in its description, you can pretty much guarantee I’m going to pick it up.

That being said, Reckless Girls is not my usual fare. I typically stick with dark fantasy, sci-fi, and even horror. A bright beach getaway isn’t my ideal vacation spot, even if there’s a promise of murder and mayhem.

Thankfully, Rachel Hawkins’ novel did not disappoint. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys that slow descent into madness, where even you begin to question everyone’s motives, then Reckless Girls is exactly the right book for you.

The story starts with Lux and Nico, who’ve been in a relationship for about a year. After Lux’s mother died, she was adrift at sea until she found Nico, a suave rich kid with the heart of a beach bum. They decided to move to Hawaii, where’d they’d eventually fix up his boat and go sailing around the world.

It might seem like the perfect relationship on its surface, but that’s the genius of Rachel Hawkins’ writing. As the narrator of the book, you’re automatically placed in Lux’s shoes, and it’s easy to see where she’s coming from and why she reacts a certain way to the various stressors throughout the book. She’s relatable, if not always likeable.

On the surface, Nico is a hot, charming, intriguing boyfriend. But right from the first chapter you can see the cracks in the façade of their relationship. Lux knows exactly what she wants from Nico, but he doesn’t always say or do right by her at first. But as soon as she drifts away, he finds a way to pull her back in.

There was a lot to enjoy in this book, but as strange as it may be, I loved Lux and Nico the most. Not because I found them #couplegoals but because I wanted to see how long Nico could convince Lux that he was what she wanted, and how long it would take Lux to realize she was just going through the motions.

Nico’s subtle digs and Lux’s rationalizations kept me hooked because these kinds of relationships are all too real, and Rachel Hawkins paints that picture with astounding ease. It’s the part of this Reckless Girls book review I was most excited to write about.

Their situation is further complicated when Brittany and Amma show up on the scene. These two want Nico to ferry them to Meroe Island, a deserted atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Lux doesn’t like the idea of her boyfriend spending a couple weeks at sea and on a paradise island with two other women, but it’ll give them enough money to finish fixing up the boat so they can set sail. And when Nico says he wants her to come along, it feels like everything is right in the world.

Brittany is the extrovert of the group, immediately throwing her arms around everyone she meets. She loves people and has a sunny demeanor. It’s impossible not to like her, even for someone like Lux, who’s a bit more reserved and careful around new people.

Amma is the opposite of her friend—she’s quiet and maybe a little moody. You can tell she thinks Brittany is too cavalier with her trust, though she would never try to stop Brittany from being who she is. Lux and Amma get off on the wrong foot, and it’s clear to our narrator that these two newcomers aren’t being one hundred percent truthful.

Eventually, however, a budding friendship forms between all four passengers aboard the Susannah, and Lux begins to think their two-week vacation on a deserted island might not be so bad after all.

reckless girls book review

But when they pull up to the island, there’s another boat already anchored. In come Eliza and Jake, a high society couple who seem free of all the world’s woes. They immediately welcome the others with open arms, sharing their food and booze as if the other four were family and not complete strangers.

If two’s company and three’s a crowd, then six is a disaster waiting to happen. As everyone gets to know each other better, bonds develops and habits form as they wake up and spend every day swimming, sunbathing, or exploring the jungle. And again, this is where the writing truly shines. If you take one thing away from this Reckless Girls book review, it’s that Rachel Hawkins knows how to build complex characters and put them in interesting situations.

Lux’s intrigue about the others battles with her jealousy over Nico. Each and every person on the island is flawed, including our intrepid narrator. If you enjoy people watching, then you’ll be as fascinated by the psychology of these characters as much as I was. Each time you think you like someone, a flaw is revealed, and you go back to distrusting them. But then someone else steps into the shadows, stealing your attention, and the others are redeemed.

The building of all these characters is helped along by chapters set in the “Before.” Not only do we see how Lux and Nico first met, but we also get glimpses of their relationship leading up to the start of the book. Then Brittany and Amma’s perspectives are added in, and eventually, so is Eliza’s. It paints a full picture of the entire ensemble, pushing us ever closer to the answers we seek in the “Now.”

A tipping point is reached when a seventh person lands on the island. Robbie is nothing like the others, least of all because he doesn’t understand the decorum they’ve all been exhibiting in their time so far. Lux has come to think of Meroe as their island, and it certainly feels as though Robbie is trespassing. Especially because they can’t get a good read on the guy.

It doesn’t help that Meroe is steeped in its own mystery. Set as a refueling station in WWII, there are remnants of the past war throughout the island, including an airstrip and a small outpost. Tales of fighting and cannibalism abound, and even talk of someone living on the island despite its desolation.

Suddenly, paradise feels crowded and more than a little dangerous, and Lux has no idea how real her nightmares will become.

Much of Reckless Girls is a slow windup to an explosive end, but instead of feeling bored or anxious about what was to come, I found myself settling in deeper and deeper with every page, wondering when the ticking timebomb would go off. And when it finally did? Oh, it was worth it.

‘Reckless Girls’ hit store shelves on January 4, 2022

Buy Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

Look for more recommendations on our books page.