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Book Review: Five Survive by Holly Jackson

Book Review: Five Survive by Holly Jackson

Arriving too late in the bookish calendar to be featured in our best books of 2022 list but certainly worthy of inclusion, Holly Jackson’s Five Survive is a fast-paced, keep-you-guessing standalone thriller that pits six friends stuck in a broken down RV against a vengeful sniper. Set in a real-time eight hour narrative, this is a masterclass in building tension and keeping it right up until the final page.

Red and her friends are on a road trip from Philadelphia to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It’s a long drive in an RV but it’s Spring Break and spirits are high. That is until they take a wrong turn and the RV comes to a halt in the middle of nowhere at night. It soon becomes apparent that it wasn’t a pothole or stray shard of glass that blew out the vehicle’s tires, but a gun. Somewhere in the dark, someone is watching the group. The sniper knows exactly who they are. And worse still, he doesn’t intend to let anyone leave until one of the group gives up a crucial secret.

As a desperate game of cat-and-mouse unfolds, the group frantically try to outsmart the sniper. Everyone in the RV has secrets, most of all Red, but nobody wants to divulge them, especially Red. With the sniper losing patience and the atmosphere in the RV growing more tense and less friendly as time ticks by, it becomes clear that not everyone will survive the night. But who has the all-important secret? And what will it take for them to give it up?

The RV was going nowhere. And here they were, the six of them, trapped inside it, the wide-open nothing and the red dot waiting for them out there.”

Five Survive has the taut, claustrophobic feel of a locked-room mystery thriller. The sniper might be on the outside shooting in, but it’s clear to both the reader and the characters that this kind of situation couldn’t have been planned without some insider help. Which of the six friends could it be and what’s their motive? Is it Red, the traumatised protagonist haunted by the death of her mum? Is it Red’s caring best friend Maddy, or Maddy’s controlling brother Oliver? Is it Arthur, the sweet boy Red’s developed feelings for, or Simon, the theatre kid who arranged their transport? Or maybe it’s Reyna, Oliver’s girlfriend, who certainly doesn’t seem as content as she makes out.

The best thing about Five Survive is that it doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Despite Red’s unease and reserved nature, the friends seem to get on well at the beginning. But the cracks start to show the moment the RV breaks down. Fights break out, old resentments boil over and it’s obvious that certain characters are more expendable than others – or at least they are to the people they thought were their friends. The sniper might be after one particular nugget of information but there are other secrets that threaten to tear the group apart too.

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As with so many YA thrillers of this ilk, Five Survive’s plot is fairly far-fetched and does require readers to suspend disbelief. But part of the fun of this story is going along with the tense, unbelievable ride and seeing where it all leads. Holly Jackson’s pacing is spot on and she creates the perfect kill-or-be-killed situation that brings out both the best and worst in its young characters. If you want a book you can fly through in a single sitting, this is absolutely it, delivering thrills, betrayals and shock revelations in abundance.


Five Survive was published by Electric Monkey on 8 December 2022

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