At night when I’m holding on to my mother because she’s trying to get away from you so she can have a few hours of peace, I think about ways you might die. I’d love to stab you, to pull your dreamy blue eyes from your head. I’d love to hear you scream, too see you beg for your life and then take it from you anyway. You’re a plague and pestilence, and the way you carry your manliness likes it’s a permission slip from God to act like you rule everything and everyone in your path, like you can do whatever you want-well, I think the guillotine is a good option. I’d love to watch your head roll across the grass.
Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, find themselves back in Santa Maria, California, after Mayhem’s abusive stepfather takes things too far. After the death of Mayhem’s father, Lucas, many years before, Roxy packed her daughter in her car and left Santa Maria, her twin, and her mother, with no intentions of ever looking back. Until now. It’s quite clear to Mayhem that there is more to this town, old house, and family, than meets the eye and she is determined to uncover the legacy her mother ran from all those years ago and to finally take her own place in in the Brayburn family.
A diary exists in which the Brayburn women have added their own stories and experiences in the hopes that it would help the next generation own their power while also staying true to themselves. Mayhem finds this diary and the reader learns alongside her about the magic in her family. Throughout the book we are given glimpses into this diary and learn quite a bit about where the Brayburn Legacy originated and why. The magic of the Brayburn women was ultimately born of powerlessness. Starting with the rape of Mayhem’s great-great-grandmother, the brayburn magic manifests in the water found in a cave near their home. While the water loves Brayburn blood and the strength of the magic varies for each person, it is not required that you be a Brayburn to consume the water and adopt the power from it. Although, it is said that if you’re not a Brayburn the water will eventually drive you mad.
Drink the water.
Find true love.
Embrace your fate.
Protect Santa Maria and you protect yourself.
And never, ever tell another about the spring.
We are none of us invincible. We are all of us made of flesh and bone.
It is for us alone to carry.
I am fascinated by this concept. Estelle Laure created this interesting magic system set in a contemporary world where women who are so often powerless are given this unimaginable power and they use it to fight the injustices visited upon them. Over the years it becomes the duty of the Brayburn’s to protect their town and the people within it are grateful and show their thanks by leaving gifts at their home. Laced within this story there is also a serial killer on the loose and the constant threat of Lyle returning to take Roxy back to their old life. Meanwhile, Mayhem is learning where she fits into the family and is starving for details of her past, especially of her father, but her mother is self-medicating leaving Mayhem to learn what she can from her Aunt Elle and her aunt’s adoptive kids. Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship irked me at times. So many situations arose that I wish had been dealt with differently by both of them and I also wasn’t sure what relevance the author was attempting to portray by having Mayhem call her mother by her given name. This detail created a divide between mother and daughter that I didn’t think was realistic considering that the two of them only ever had one another for love and protection and I’m not convinced that a relationship cultivated in that type pf environment would leave room for such a thing between them. I don’t consider this a fault of the story; I love that this book leaves so much room for interpretation from the reader and this is just one small example of that. At the conclusion of the story I found Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship and the moments they experienced to be pretty accurate of what a mother/teen might experience.
There is so much to unpack from this story. Mayhem is not for the feint of heart. It deals with many heavy topics and while there is an underlying theme of hope, it’s still very much a dark tale. There are a lot of contradicting personalities, especially from the group of kids that Mayhem meets when she first arrives in Santa Maria. I found Neve to be especially abrasive and didn’t care for her character much. Here is a book about women taking their power back and yet no one ever challenges Neve or her behavior in a meaningful way and I felt this contradicted the purpose of the story. I also would have liked if Elle was a stronger character. This story would have benefitted from a strong matriarchal presence and Elle had so much potential to fill that roll but then sort of fell flat when faced with any sort of challenge. Most of the characters are really fleshed out and I was able to connect with them as the story progressed but for some reason I didn’t have that same connection with Kidd. I kind of felt that her character was unnecessary and sometimes annoying. All in all these are small criticisms that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book in any substantial way.
I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Summer of Salt, The Wicked Deep, and Sawkill Girls. Mayhem is set in the 1980’s but definitely has that seaside, magical feel with an underlying theme of darkness, similar to the settings of the titles I’ve listed above. Also make sure to be aware of extensive trigger warnings (taken from Estelle Laure’s website):
➽Rape: the Brayburn family’s backstory centers around the matriarch’s rape and explores the ensuing generational trauma and its effects on the women within its lineage. The rape is on page but is not graphically depicted.
➽Suicide: a suicide takes place off page.
➽Drug use: there is one scene in which multiple adolescents take hallucinogenic mushrooms. There is much use of pills and alcohol by one of the adults in the story as a coping mechanism for chronic pain and trauma.
➽Serial kidnapping and murder: part of the story centers around an active serial kidnapper and killer. There is also murder depicted throughout, sometimes on the page and sometimes off, including the murder of two of the children’s parents, which takes place in dialogue and is not explicitly on the page.
➽Child abuse: central to the story is a depiction of violence experienced by a child.
➽Domestic violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse: also central to the story is long-term domestic violence and its attendant cycle. This is mostly off stage, however there are several scenes of emotional manipulation and intimidation, and one scene that contains stalking and breaking and entering and a physical altercation.
✦ The quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.✦
About the Author
Estelle Laure (pronounced lore/lor) is the author of critically-acclaimed books for young people. She is best known for her novel, This Raging Light, which has been translated into twelve languages. She has five forthcoming young adult novels, including Disney’s City of Villains series (book one fall 2021) and Mayhem (July 14, 2020) with Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s. She is also very pleased to be fulfilling a dream by stepping into the world of picture books, the first of which will be out with HarperKids in 2021. In addition to writing her own stories, Estelle is an editorial consultant, writing coach, and educator.