Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This book first came to my attention when work was doing coverage of the Edgars the year it was nominated for Best First Novel, but I deliberately chose another book on the slate because the blurb was equal parts attractive and repulsive to me. It sounded very much like rich white people problems, plus every book compared to Gone Girl proves to be disappointing. But still, there was something about it that I couldn’t quite shake, so when Reese Witherspoon announced that she’d bought the movie rights, I figured I ought to read it sooner rather than later.

And oh jeez, am I glad I did. It’s been so long since I’ve read a book where the protagonist was so palpably and justifiably furious, whose radiant anger touched many targets but was primarily turned inward, punishing herself while building an impregnable shell against anyone who might possibly hurt her again. It is a brutally honest rendering of a woman who isn’t “nice” (I fucking hate that word when used to describe women: it usually translates to “doormat”) but who will do whatever it takes to get what she feels she deserves. And you know what? TifAni FaNelli deserves whatever she wants. After an adolescence of appalling degradation, she claimed her own needs and desires and rewards, and it made me fiercely happy to see her do it. I lauded her courage and ferocity, I related to her dreams and ambitions. I absolutely loved her.

But after reading the book, I hated the blurb even more. It declares that TifAni is hiding a secret that could destroy her entire life, implying that she once did something terrible for which she should feel shame. This is blatantly false, and weirdly anathema to the book’s theme of not apologizing for who you are, of holding wrongdoers accountable even as you let go of your pain. It’s like, can we stop blaming the victim here? I did really, really appreciate how Jessica Knoll didn’t try to pretty up any of TifAni’s inner thoughts, tho, especially when she was an adolescent desperately eager to please.

As to the rest of the plot, it’s twist after twist with a perfect ending exchange between TifAni and Aaron that has me bracing myself for her future. I loved this character, I loved Mr Larson (despite Whitney) and I haaaaaaated Luke and, especially, TifAni’s parents (tho I should have known from the way they spelled her name that they would be perfectly awful people.) I did think that everything after the rehearsal dinner felt a wee bit rushed, and I didn’t feel that we needed such a blatant spelling out of adult TifAni’s psycho-social motivations… but then again, many complaints regarding this book have to do with how she’s “unlikeable” so perhaps Ms Knoll wasn’t explicit enough. After reading some of the bonus material included in my library copy of the book, I’ve decided that I, for one, like and want to support this author as much as I do TifAni (and no, I don’t care what that says about me,) so I’ve already put myself on the waitlist for her next novel. Which is my poor person’s way of saying I highly recommend this book.

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