As it turns out, I’m the last female reader on Earth to pick up Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive. Friends and fellow bookstagrammers relentlessly recommended it, so the book’s been in my TBR (to-be-read) pile for a while. When I finally snagged the mass-market paperback from a cheesy supermarket end-cap display, I did some quick Instagram research on the author while standing in the grocery line armed with bananas and a new novel.
I learned a few things: Jessica Knoll is my age; she’s hilarious; and the woman’s got panache.
And she’s done it. She’s gone and written a book. (Yes; I know millions of people do this every year, but it still leaves me in awe). Knoll got it published by a huge house. Earned amazing representation and tons of press. Was afforded an incredible marketing team. And you know what? She deserves it all. Luckiest Girl Alive is good. I mean, GOOD.
Some pretentious readers might say otherwise. Bug bah humbug. Let ’em. With a 3.5/5 star rating on GoodReads and roughly the same rating on Amazon, I say the good guys have won here.
Luckiest Girl Alive is dark and quirky, just the way I like it. I agree with many of the naysayers, though, when they huff ‘n puff over the comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s books (most notably Gone Girl). Flynn’s books are dark and morbid. They seep into one’s soul and cover it with thick, smoldering ash.
(NOTE: Flynn is one of my FAVORITE authors. I absolutely love her voice and stories).
But Knoll is not Flynn. And I’m glad. Her brand of darkness is a bit more… Neon. Amidst the shadows, her voice boldly flits sporadic, buzzy light. And she’s funny, you guys. When an author can write about something so ghastly only to make me laugh a few seconds later, I’d say that’s something special.
You know what? Flynn and Knoll have a lot in common, too. They’re both excellent writers. They each graduated from college and fortunately found jobs writing in the glitzy magazine industry. They are strong, self-proclaimed feminists. And they both chose a highly unlikable protagonist for their debut novel… While both went on to become bestselling authors. The difference? The main character in Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive is decidedly more shallow than Flynn’s (any of them), and therefore more polarizing.
So. What’s in a name?
Our protagonist is TifAni FaNelli. I don’t love her—at the onset. She kinda sucks—at the onset. But she curled into a corner of my heart. Much like her godawful given name, TifAni’s story happened TO her. It was circumstantial. She didn’t ask for such a ludicrous first name with an irritating capitalization faux pas. And she didn’t ask for all of the horrific things to happen to her in high school, which set her on a rocky-minded path from there. (And for those who don’t like the book simply because you think the teenaged TifAni made wrong choices, I suggest you google “victim blaming”).
We meet formerly-middle-class TifAni (now known as “Ani”) in the months approaching her snazzy, mega-$$$ wedding to a well-off, well-groomed guy with a great job. She thinks and talks about wedding reception price points ad nauseam (old money vs. new money), maintaining a “money is no object” vibe while mentally calculating every dime. But despite her idea of an impending dream wedding, a nagging feeling festers inside her, about to burst and bubble out. We go back ‘n forth between TifAni’s current life and her past—the latter of which is much more engaging. To the point where I didn’t even refill my wine glass because I was so glued to the pages.
The Luckiest Girl Alive asks readers for a great deal of sympathy. And I’m going to give it. Not just because I now know that the author’s own teenage story is harrowingly similar to the protagonist’s, but because the story teaches awareness. It asks readers to look around and understand that humans are the way they are because of circumstances and events that have happened to them. Choices they made too, yes. But it’s deeper than that.
This book has its own brand of trauma. I felt an oozing discomfort the whole way through, as the atrocities propelled forward, rolling downhill and gaining speed. Nevertheless, my nose was all up in there over three days’ time.
As I neared the end of the novel, Jessica Knoll published an opinion in The New York Times titled “I Want to Be Rich and I’m Not Sorry.” Her op-ed shed some light on her own life story—at which point I realized that a good chunk of the book was based on her own life experiences. I would’ve enjoyed the book either way, but reading Knoll’s NYT article as I approached the final page in Luckiest Girl Alive amped up my appreciation for the character—and for the author, who I admire greatly.
Knoll’s second novel just came out a couple weeks ago, and I hope The Favorite Sister is every bit of the powerhouse the first is.