3.5 star, YA

Review: Five Survive by Holly Jackson

The brand new unmissable crime thriller from Holly Jackson, best-selling, award-winning author of the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy.

Eight hours.
Six friends.
One sniper . . .

Eighteen year old Red and her friends are on a road trip in an RV, heading to the beach for Spring Break. It’s a long drive but spirits are high. Until the RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no mobile phone reception and nobody around to help. And as the wheels are shot out, one by one, the friends realise that this is no accident. There’s a sniper out there in the dark watching them and he knows exactly who they are. One of the group has a secret that the sniper is willing to kill for.

A game of cat-and-mouse plays out as the group desperately tries to get help and to work out which member of the group is the target. Buried secrets are forced to light in the cramped, claustrophobic setting of the RV, and tensions within the group will reach deadly levels. Not everyone will survive the night.

Overall Recommendation:

Hard to compete with the super high bar Holly Jackson’s bestselling series brought, but Five Survive holds up well enough as a locked room type thriller. Secrets were fun to guess and the ultimate mastermind behind what should’ve been a fun road trip wasn’t immediately obvious. Kudos for branching out in the genre but I did wish for more suspense as there wasn’t really enough stakes for it.

I’m a huge fan of Holly Jackson after the extraordinary book that was A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, but I will be honest when there are things I don’t love as much as her debut (we don’t talk about book 3 here). Perhaps after such success, the expectations are set really high. But comparing it to Five Survive wouldn’t do this book justice.

Five Survive is most definitely less a whodunnit than a trapped thriller where everyone in the room could be a suspect, and the mysterious mastermind holding all the power may be one of them or someone they know intimately. It reminded me a lot of Diana Urban’s debut which I also felt similarly for so maybe I’m just more of a fan of well-plotted traditional mysteries.

So plot is still pretty important in such a story and I do think this book delivers there. Trapped in the RV from around 10pm at night until daybreak to get help, anything can honestly happen in those darkest hours in the middle of nowhere. The pacing was okay, but in the middle it really does let up on the “stress” factor that makes a thriller so enticing you absolutely can’t or shouldn’t put it down. Not enough happens outside the RV that ups the stakes. The crew inside was left with ample time to converse and try to plan escapes before it really felt like their lives were truly in danger. You can say that this book equally focuses on the six protagonists stuck inside the RV. Let’s dig into them, shall we?

On this road trip, we are mainly stuck in Red’s head. She’s not your cookie cutter kind of protagonist which I can appreciate. Her mind loses focus at times from what’s important with other competing thoughts that pop up, like a pattern in the RV’s curtains she cannot for the life of her figure out what it reminds her of. She’s also what I like to call an unreliable protagonist. Right off the bat, it’s obvious she’s hiding something even from us, the supposedly omniscient reader who should know her thoughts. What her secret is may or may not be super important to the current events but it bugs you to wonder what it could be. Red’s also faced trauma in her past with regards to her family so that brings another layer to her that makes it interesting seeing everything from her perspective.

The others can technically be boiled down to their roles in relation to Red – classmate, best friend, best friend’s brother and his girlfriend, and crush. But I liked how as time went on in the RV they’re more than just their initial traits. For example, Oliver, the perfect guy and overachiever, may not be so glamorous as Red always thought he was, and his relationship with his girlfriend may not be perfect on every level when you have life or death stresses mixed in. To be honest, I really started hating Oliver at some point for his need to lead and make all the final decisions for the whole group, but this shows his characterization was written so well that I could feel such emotions for him.

Did I end up gobbling this up like Holly’s other books? Not quite. But for thriller fans, I think this was well done. It balanced plot with characterization in a way that propelled the story forward instead of dragging everything slowly. For whodunnit mystery fans, Five Survive may not be the best read but it’s definitely still an enjoyable and heart pounding journey with Red and her crew.


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