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Five Survive

Five Survive by Holly Jackson


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Year Published

Book Review

Red Kenny sets off on a road trip for spring break with five friends. But someone in her group has a secret. And unless they can all figure out who and what it is, someone will die.

Plot Summary

Red Kenny will freely admit that she’s something of an odd duck. She’s so absentminded that she can barely hold a thought in her head for more than a minute or two. Her peculiar brain tends to flit from here to there, landing on this and that, on a regular basis. And those things that she does stay focused on—an odd word or a strange inconsistency—pulse in her mind like a bad toothache.

In fact, even in the midst of the six friends that are taking a spring break road trip together, she’s the odd girl out.

Red and her bestie, Maddy, are definitely tight. But even Maddy is constantly protecting and guiding Red through life in some ways. I mean, this very trip they’re taking (in a borrowed RV) was put together by Maddy so that Red could attend.

Why? Because Red’s mom died a few years ago, her dad is a drunk and the Kenny family has absolutely zero money.

That’s not to say that all the others don’t like Red. She’s an amiable, nice sorta person: friendly, caring. But the other vacationers—Maddy’s perfect older brother, Oliver, his perfectly beautiful girlfriend, Reyna, their friend, Simon, and the new guy, Arthur—just kinda put up with Red’s ditziness.

OK, Arthur is really sweet about it. He looks at her with kind eyes. And Red would probably have a major crush on him if she weren’t so self-conscious about her own oddness.

Anyway, their trip has been going pretty well—at least early on. There haven’t been any big problems so far during the long drive south from Philadelphia to Gulf Shores. (Well, Simon has been drinking nonstop. But that’s Simon. And its his uncle’s RV that they’re borrowing, so …)

It’s after that first long day of driving, however, when something does go sideways. While on their way to a campground out in the middle of nowhere, they take a wrong turn. Then they lose their phone signal, so the GPS cuts out. It’s really dark, the road shifts from paved to gravel. And then … somebody starts shooting.

No kidding.

Somewhere out in the dark, a guy with a sniper rifle and a red laser scope blasts their tires, blows out their gas tank, blasts in a window or two and makes his demands known.

It seems that someone in this RV has a secret. That sets Red’s mind to spinning, ‘cause, like, everyone one has secrets, right? But this secret is important to the gunman. And while these six travelers are pinned down in a pitch-black field, they’re given an ultimatum.

They need to figure out whose secret the shooter wants.

And they need to give it to him before he kills them all.

And wouldn’t you know it? There’s something that’s sticking in Red’s mind. A stubborn little something. It’s probably nothing important. But she can’t let it go, and it’s starting to pulse like a toothache.

Christian Beliefs

Red remembers her mother’s church funeral.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Red recalls good times with her mom when they talked and played together when she was a young girl. But she is also plagued by the memory of an argument on the night her mother died. In fact, Red’s guilt over her harsh words motivate her to irrationally blame herself for her mom’s death.

Red loves her dad, but his drunken ways tend to make him more of a burden than a help in her life.

On the other hand, Red puts her trust in one parental figure who selfishly betrays her. This adult not only lies to Red, but sets her up to potentially be killed, all for personal gain. Ultimately, we find out that this adult murdered someone in cold blood.

The six friends in the RV all have their flaws, failings and, in some cases, betrayals to reveal. However, Red tends to be the one most ready to sacrifice for the others. She runs into danger to pull a friend to safety and uses her own body to shield someone else. Several of the others step up to follow her lead.

Profanity & Violence

This book’s dialogue can get very raw at times, with some 80 f-words and multiple uses of the s-word and other crudities such as “a–hole” and “b–ch.” God’s name is misused a few times.

The teens and twentysomethings in the RV also carry lots of beer and booze in their supplies. Simon tends to be the one drinking most of it, though. He’s drunk at several points and Red attempts to help sober him up by giving him glasses of water to drink. We learn that Red’s father became a drunk after his wife’s death. Simon also makes jokes about drinking and making meth in an RV (ala Breaking Bad).  We hear a “secret” story of a couple drinking at a bar, and the male partner gets in a fight in the parking lot.

The result of that fight is that one guy later dies from a brain bleed. We also hear about Red’s mom, who was a cop, being betrayed and then shot twice in the back of the head, execution style. The sniper shoots several people. An elderly couple are murdered. (The gruesome aspects of their deaths are described.) Somone else is shot in the thigh and the teens struggle to stop the gushing blood. Near the end of the story, someone is stabbed, and two others are shot in the torso and chest (one dies). The gunman fires into the RV on a number of occasions. We hear of a gangland murder.

Maddy’s brother, Oliver, takes command in the RV. Sometimes that’s through his natural leadership skills. Other times, though, he uses his size and strength to force his will on others. He manhandles several people (including Red, whom he forcibly grabs and throws outside the RV and into the shooter’s view). Eventually, the other guys in the group fight back to save someone. And we’re told of bruises on Oliver’s and other’s faces.

Sexual Content

Someone tells a secret involving a sexual betrayal (no vivid details). Red touches Arthur’s hand on several occasions and feels a flush of attraction. Simon makes a string of sexual quips, one time mentioning masturbation.

Discussion Topics


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Additional Comments

Author Holly Jackson takes readers on a twisting and turning journey with Five Survive, peeling back the onion skin layers of a confined mystery. The characters are well defined and likable. And this compelling story not only deals with people’s self-sacrificial choices, but it points out how privileged arrogance and guilt (rightly or wrongly placed) can reshape a person in negative and destructive ways.

Readers should be aware, however, that this tale is intense, bloody, and rife with foul language.

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Review by Bob Hoose