47 pages 1 hour read

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu Rising

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2021 novel Malibu Rising takes place over the course of one day, August 27, 1983, in Malibu, California, centering on themes of family, fame, and parenthood. The plot revolves around an annual summer party hosted by Nina Riva and her childhood with her three siblings, Jay, Hud, and Kit—the children of Mick Riva, a famous singer, whose fame they’re forced to reckon with every day of their lives.

Malibu Rising is the seventh of Reid’s novels. Her 2019 book Daisy Jones and the Six won the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award in 2020.

This study guide refers to the 2021 edition published by Ballantine Books.

Plot Summary

The prologue opens with Malibu’s history of fires. The Malibu fire of 1983 began on August 27, the day of Nina Riva’s annual summer party. The person who started the fire remains a mystery.

Nina Riva wakes alone at 7 in the morning. Her husband recently left her after having an affair, and she dreads people asking her about him that night at the party. Nina has two brothers: Jay, a professional surfer, and Hud, a surf photographer. Jay has appeared via Hud’s work three times on covers of surf magazines; Hud is sleeping with Jay’s ex-girlfriend. Their youngest sibling is their sister Kit, who is going into her junior year of college.

The novel flashes back to 1956. The siblings’ parents, June and Mick Riva, met in Malibu just as Mick was beginning his career as a singer. He slowly became famous. After he and June had Nina and Jay, a woman appeared at June’s door while Mick was on tour—Mick fathered her son Hud, whom she leaves with June. June forgave Mick for his affair, but eventually, he left her to marry another woman. After that marriage ended in divorce, Mick returned to June. They soon remarried and had Kit. However, before long, Mick left again for good. June drank more and more, so her children took care of themselves. When June died by drowning, Mick did not reach out to his children. Nina became her siblings’ guardian, dropped out of school, and took over the family restaurant. Eventually, she was discovered surfing and became a professional model, using the money to support her siblings. She married professional tennis player Brandon Randall in 1982.

In the present, Jay seeks the attention of Lara, a woman he recently slept with, feeling comforted by her belief that he will be okay despite his newly diagnosed heart condition. She is the only one he has told, so he confirms that she will be at the party. Kit hopes to kiss a boy for the first time at the party. Hud agonizes over how he will tell Jay about his relationship with Ashley. Nina and her siblings meet at the restaurant for lunch and go surfing together.

Just before seven, Brandon appears and tells Nina that he wants to come home. Brandon begs Nina to take him back, professing his love publicly and forcing her to say “yes.” At the party, Nina realizes Ashley and Hud are sleeping together, as Ashley tells Hud that she is pregnant. Nina also meets Casey, a young woman wandering around the party, who turns out to also be Mick’s daughter.

Kit kisses Ricky Esposito and immediately realizes that she isn’t interested in kissing men. She comes out to Ricky.

In Hud’s truck, Jay tells Lara he’s in love with her. They start to have sex, but Jay discovers nude photos of Ashley in the glove compartment. Afterward, he reiterates that he loves Lara, who doesn’t feel the same way. Enraged, Jay goes to find Hud, who decides to tell Jay the truth—Hud will be a father.

Brandon’s mistress arrives, and Nina realizes she doesn’t have to blandly accept everything that happens to her. Nina tells Brandon to leave.

Mick arrives to find Jay and Hud fighting, and he breaks them apart. He and his children talk. Mick wants to be a part of their lives again. All are suspicious, and Nina says that Mick hasn’t really changed. Her siblings are shocked by her bluntness. Even though Mick is sorry for what he’s done, his love still doesn’t mean much to Nina. Mick admits that he doesn’t remember whether he slept with Casey’s mother. He also explains that he wasn’t capable of being a parent, angering Nina—she didn’t get to decide whether she was capable after June died. She just did what she needed to do for her family, even though she’d rather be surfing in Portugal. Mick decides to leave his children alone. He goes back to the house and handles the cops who were called when the party got out of hand.

The others accept Casey as part of their family and encourage Nina to go to Portugal. She agrees to leave, realizing they can take care of themselves. Jay forgives Hud, who proposes to Ashley. The brothers also agree to help Kit become a professional surfer.

As Mick leaves, he flicks his cigarette into the dry grass, lighting the fire that will destroy Nina’s house and ignite the coast. However, just as each Riva child will rebuild their life, Malibu will be born anew.