Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

September 15, 2017

When this book first came out and was getting all the buzz, I added it to my reading list because every review I read (the ones without spoilers of course), compared it to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Well… not to say that I was disappointed but… Luckiest Girl Alive is not like those books at all. I stirred so much emotion in me that I decided to write a few review as my thoughts were not quite concise enough for the Reading Challenge page.

At the beginning of the novel we meet Ani. This seemingly perfect character has a great job at The Women’s Magazine, a super-rich fiancé, a sprawling NYC apartment and an obvious body complex. She’s kind of a bitch tbh and goes out of her way to be mean. We come to find out that this girl is lying to herself and everyone else, using this fake perfect life to remove herself from her past life. Unfortunately, as she has been asked to participate in a documentary about incidents form the past. she can’t hide much longer.

Turns out Ani, formerly known as TifAni (yup, I know), was raped her freshman year of high school by three boys while  she was intoxicated to the point of incoherence at a party. She doesn’t remember everything but has lucid moments throughout the night where she can recall what each boy did to her. Although she musters up the courage to visit Planned Parenthood for the morning after pill (escorted by one of her rapists), they did not provide her with the counseling she needed after this traumatic event. (This was happening in the late 90s, not the same PP we know today!) She attempts to stifle her emotions, resolves to keep the rape a secret and tries to move on so she can remain in the popular crowd at school. That is until one of the boys assaults her again. then she finds herself the victim of the most severe form of bullying and slut shaming, the special brand that can only be inflicted by high school girls. In the turmoil she rebuilds her friendship with her first ally at the school, Arthur. Together they revel in their hate fore the popular students while getting high and overeating. When they get in a fight, Arthur reunites with his friend who recently attempted suicide due to his own bullying by the popular kids, and together they plan to shoot and kill everyone in their esteemed private school. (I guess this is the plot twist that has everyone considering this a suspense thriller…) TifAni, one of the few to remain alive after escaping a deadly cafeteria explosion, kills Arthur who threatens to kill her as she’s trying to get to safety.

Now all these years later, a documentary is being made about the school and the mass casualty. They ask Ani, who changed her name in college, to participate (obviously) and she knows she cannot do so without addressing the rape. Her fiancé and family are adamant that she doesn’t talk about it but when one of her rapists asks to speak to her, she know it is inevitable, especially with the cameras capturing every moment. In the end, she ends up confronting on of her rapists (the one assaulted her twice) and her feelings about it. This makes her intolerant of her lie of a life and everything implodes including her engagement (during the rehearsal dinner!) and even her job.

Soooo obviously this is not a suspense thriller. The writing is suspenseful in that we slowly, almost painstakingly, gather the details of Ani’s past but a school shooting doesn’t get this book to thriller status. What we have is a novel about rape and the disastrous effects of rape and rape culture. Once you establish that, you can analyze the novel form a more honest standpoint.

Luckiest Girl Alive is creepy and heavy and dark. I think it’s written that way to give us some semblance of the darkness that Ani has been carrying around since her freshman year of high school. She details all the ways she’s tried to shake it: eating, drugs, sex, brief stent of therapy, building this sham of a life for herself. But really it keeps her up at night. She beats herself up for apologizing to one of her rapists at one point in time. She harbors deep resentment for her mother for telling her she should have known better. She feels utterly alone, despite being surrounded  by so many people as she plans her wedding, because no one will acknowledge her assault. They tell her not to talk about it, to get over it, force her to hide it as much as possible. It may be almost 20 years later but it is still very real for her.

In the version I read, there was “new material” at the end. This was an essay by Jessica Knoll, published after the first run of the novel, where she reveals that this is basically a thinly veiled version of her own story. She changed a few minor details (and added a school shooting) but Ani = Jessica Knoll. I wasn’t surprised because the level of detail she was able to use when describing the emotions, feelings and physical reactions were obviously from a place of familiarity. No research could provide someone with those words or that level of understanding. I commend her for sharing her story. I commend her for pointing out how rape can destroy a person and how rape culture ensures that they stay that way.

Books with this subject matter always get me riled up as a feminist, a women, a public health professional. I want everyone to realize we have a lot of work to do. We need to do a better job at teaching boys and girls about respecting each others bodies and about consent. We get so caught up in not wanting to talk about sex that we are leaving young people without the information they need to enter sexual situations and make the best decisions for them and their bodies. We need to teach boys that girls owe them NOTHING and when she says NO, that’s the end of it. We need to let girls and women know that it is more than OK, if not necessary, to report their assaults because we will provide them with resources and advocate for them to get the justice they deserve. We need to support organizations like Planned Parenthood and RAINN who assist sexual assault victims and provide a host of other services for girls and women. Sexual violence in any form is not OK and we need to be doing more to make that clear.

But I digress. This was a well written book, I’m glad to have read it, as difficult as it may have been at times. I’m glad that Jessica Knoll found a way to share her story. I hope it was therapeutic for her. I hope others read it and are empowered to tell their own stories. 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, tweet me @cocktailswithk or comment on my IG post @cocktailswithkiera

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