Reviews /

Five Survive

Authored by Holly Jackson
Published by HarperCollins Publishers

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Five Survive: Holly Jackson’s new standalone thriller is rather less Blyton-esque than the title might suggest at first glance – but it is utterly unputdownable. Six teenagers are on a road trip for their spring break when their campervan breaks down late at night on a deserted byway. They soon realise that they are under an attack from a sniper who won’t let them go until one of them reveals a secret.

This is a novel that promises suspense and delivers it in spades – it is absolutely the sort of book you want to stay up all night reading. The pacing is assured and the plotting ingenious with a steady stream of twists and new information over the eight hours that the action unfolds. We follow events from Red’s perspective (short for Redford) and we get to see how she and her fellow passengers react in the claustrophobic environment of their besieged 31-foot vehicle, as well as learning more about each of their pasts. Readers may be reminded of works ranging from Lord of the Flies to And Then There Were None as well as other more recent thrillers, but Jackson does include some original elements which add to the tension: the combination of internal and external threat, and the knowledge that one of the characters will die (but not which). I didn’t see the dénouement coming but, as in the best detective fiction, the clues were all hidden in plain sight.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, but did have a few minor caveats. The plot is but more than a little contrived, although this rather goes with the territory for this genre. It does offer some character development and exploration of themes such as bereavement and toxic masculinity but not in all that much depth. Some details feel a little tokenistic – for instance, one character’s Mexican heritage is alluded to once and then never referred to again. It’s also yet another example of a popular British YA writer choosing to write about American high-school students in a somewhat clichéd way – this may be for plot reasons but also felt like it might be commercially motivated (similarly to books like The Trial by Laura Bates and Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé).

None of these quibbles will stop teenage readers from devouring this novel. I would always want a copy or two on hand in library lessons to recommend to keen and reluctant readers alike, and it would also work well for book clubs. I can imagine pupils from Years 7 and 8 being keen to read this, but I would only recommend this to students in Year 9 and above because of the dark tone and mature content – this is not a criticism as there is always a need for more popular fiction for the 13+ age range. I would advise all secondary libraries to order multiple copies if possible, as it is bound to be in high demand!