Simon & Schuster (May 2015), hardcover (ISBN 9781476789637)
Fiction: 350 pages
Source: Purchased ebook (iBooks, ISBN 9781476789651)
This post contains affiliate links to IndieBound. The discussion contains potential spoilers for the novel Luckiest Girl Alive.
High-school humiliation, shocking tragedy, personal reinvention, the conviction that the “right” old-money marriage will change your life; we’re all pretty well acquainted with the plot points of Jessica Knoll’s first novel, Luckiest Girl Alive. Some of them—the upwardly-mobile ones, mainly—also showed up in my recent read of Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, and they’re what made me decide to read this novel, another “everyone’s talking about it” book from Summer 2015, now rather than later. That said, it’s a truth generally acknowledged that there are only so many plots. What matters is what an author does with them, and if what Knoll has done with them doesn’t feel entirely new, it is entirely engrossing and occasionally surprising.
As a freshman at The Bradley School on the outskirts of Philadelphia, TifAni FaNelli survived a horrifying attack. It was not the first horrifying thing she’d survived that year. Determined to put all the horrors behind her, she got out as soon as she could. Half a lifetime later, she has changed everything, and she’s about to cap it all off by changing her name and becoming Ani Harrison, glamorous and successful magazine-columnist wife of Nantucket-raised Wall Streeter Luke. When she’s asked to participate in a documentary revisiting the Bradley tragedy, she’s in a place where she’s ready to go back, although almost no one else in her life, including her fiancé and her mother, thinks she should. But Ani has her own agenda.
Ani initially comes across as calculating and unsympathetic in personality and as a character, with a deliberate self-awareness—Knoll establishes early on that her protagonist is a self-made persona, and she has her reasons for it. Flashbacks reveal those reasons and deepen the character, exposing the TifAni that doesn’t live as far beneath the surface as Ani has willed her to…and why maybe she shouldn’t have to. What TifAni endured as a fourteen-year-old at Bradley is portrayed with realism and emotional truth; Knoll credits Dave Cullen’s Columbine in the acknowledgements for Luckiest Girl Alive, and she couldn’t have chosen a better resource for this material.
It’s become handy book-marketing shorthand to compare almost every suspense novel with a complex, difficult, possibly untrustworthy female protagonist to Gone Girl, especially if it’s been penned by a female author who can likewise be linked with Gillian Flynn. I understand why it happens, and sometimes it’s even fitting. I’m not sure how well the comparison suits Luckiest Girl Alive, but since it’s been made in the book’s marketing, I’ll play along:
Luckiest Girl Alive is an undeniable page-turner, but the story’s twists are less unexpected than those of Gone Girl. Maybe that’s because Ani FaNelli isn’t as all-out crazy as Amy Dunne, and that makes her less scary. I didn’t think Ani was as psychologically complicated as Amy, but her motivations and actions did seem more psychologically plausible—that may ultimately make her a less memorable character, but perhaps a more authentically human one, and I think that will stay with me longer than most of the plot points.
Rating: 3.75 of 5
As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.
But Ani has a secret.
There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.
With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.
The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?
“I inspected the knife in my hand.
“‘That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wüsthof?’
“I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly going humid in my grip.
“‘I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.’ I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear ‘thin.’ ‘Petite.’ He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful—now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.
“Another hand, the skin several shades lighter than my own, appeared in the frame and made a grab for the handle. ‘Can I feel?’ I looked up at him too: my fiancé.”