Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Trigger Warning: This book contains scenes of sexual assault.
Ani FaNelli seems to have it made. She has a successful writing career at a prestigious women's magazine and is engaged to a handsome, wealthy banker. However, when she is asked to participate in a documentary about a horrific incident that happened back when she was in high school cracks start to appear in her perfect life. Ani needs to face the past before she can even think about the future.
This book would be a great one for a book club discussion. I imagine you could get a spirited discussion going about Ani's character and motivations. I gather some reviewers hated her, but I felt sorry for her and eventually came to admire her a bit. Luke (her fiancé ) on the other hand was a two dimensional straw man of a character, which I found a bit annoying. When Luke is offered a job that will mean moving to London, a promotion for him and resignation for Ani his view of the situation is:
"Ani." Luke clamped his hands around my wrists and brought them down to my sides. "I know you need to get this out of your system. Prove to everyone you can do more than write about sex or whatever. But realistically, what? You'll work there a year, then you're going to be on my back about having kid next, and you're not even going to want to go back to work after. Let's be rational here. Should I - should we" - oh he evoked the "we" - "really pass up this opportunity for a temporary whim?"
And you're going to marry this guy, who dismisses your career out of hand and doesn't believe you don't want kids? Really?! But then I suppose this passage and others like it are there to show the reader how invested Ani has become in the financial, social and emotional security Luke represents to her. She can overlook his faults because he makes her feel safe, and after all that has happened she desperately needs to.
Luckiest Girl Alive has been marketed as "for fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl but not having read Gone Girl I can't comment on how simliar it is. I did find it a bit annoying that the blurb promised "twists you won't see coming". I really didn't notice any twists. The story just unfolded more or less the way I expected it to.
The narration jumps back and forth between the present day, where Ani lives with Luke, the complete and total banker, and her high school years as TifAni, or "Finny" for short. TifAni was desperate to fit in with the popular kids. She was judged from the get go as slutty simply because of the way she looked (in particular, for having large breasts at age 14). Then when some truly awful things happened to her she was blamed for them by so-called friends, strangers and her own mother. One quote that jumped out at me was:
"Nothing sadder than the adolescent rite of passage to have sex before understanding what sexy is."
The book tackles some pretty heavy topics (violence, sexual assault, male entitlement, depression, bullying...) so it's not light reading (and not a young adult book, despite the young protagonist), but it is quite a page turner. It's a look at the dark side of human nature, the way survivors of violent crimes are treated and the things people do to survive. I will be interested to read any more novels Jessica Knoll writes.
Published: May 2015
Rated: ★★ ★ ★ ☆