Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

You only scream when you’re finally safe.

this book is kind of like if the lifetime channel exploded, causing lifetime confetti to go everywhere.

but i don’t think that’s a bad thing.

a lot of people have had really strong negative reactions to this book, but since this seems to be the year that i like the books everyone hates and hate the books everyone likes, here i am with at least one thumb up.

this book is far from perfect, and it’s got a lot of things in it that people who read less clinically than i do are going to have emotional responses to. it covers all the modern-day danger-ground topics like bullying, View Spoiler », View Spoiler », eating disorders, homophobia, and there are various gender and class issues scattered throughout.

is it the new Gone Girl? not really, although it does share some qualities with that book in centering around a calculating and manipulative female lead, with several twists and reveals along the way, as well as an explication of knoll’s version of “the cool girl.” however, unlike Gone Girl, where the more we know about amy dunne the less likable she is, here it’s the complete opposite and the character becomes more sympathetic as the story unfolds.

and i like antiheroes more than empathy.

i suppose here is where i am supposed to use the character’s name, but it is so spectacularly bad. and it’s meant to be, but still. okay – bracing myself: TifAni FaNelli. fortunately, she goes by “ani” for most of the book, so i will use that name for the rest of the review, because good lord.

so ani is one stone cold bitch. shedding her past and her bougie mother’s grasping ways (Italians who don’t even know how to pronounce “bruschetta.” We are the worst kind.), she has reinvented herself not only by changing her name, but by changing her everything. she has landed herself a prestigious job at a well-known women’s magazine and refashioned herself into a combination of trendy stylishness and timeless class, landing herself a fiance who can offer her the stability of his family’s aristocratic, blueblooded bliss. and a honking big ring. ani has relentlessly driven herself up several social classes through observation and rigorous study, learning the difference between nouveau riche and really rich, learning the difference between true class and glitzy veneer, learning old-world etiquette and adopting the pose for herself. she is bateman-esque in her label name-dropping and her carefully-composed public face.

about that honking big ring, which she casually flaunts at every opportunity

…my pride and joy: a fat, brilliant emerald planet, flanked by two winking diamonds, the band simple platinum. It had been Luke’s grandmother’s – pardon me, his Mammy’s – and when he gave it to me he’d offered me the option to reset the stones on a diamond band. “Mom’s jewelry guy said that’s the look a lot of girls go for now. It’s more modern I guess.”

And that’s exactly why I didn’t want to have it reset. No, I would wear it just the way dear sweet Mammy had worn it: at once restrained and ornate. A very clear message: This is an heirloom. We don’t just have money, we come from money.

she is the very paradigm of calculating self-control – starving and exercising herself to exhaustion to attain her ideal body, and using her status and beauty to power play other women. it’s cutthroat competition, and she’s great at it. it’s snarky popcorn entertainment.

I always eye the wife first; I like to know what I’m up against. She was wearing the typical Kate uniform: white jeans, nude wedges, and a silky, sleeveless top. Hot pink, I’m sure she spent a few minutes debating it – was she tan enough, maybe the navy silky sleeveless top instead, can’t go wrong with navy – and over her shoulder, a cognac Prada the exact same shade as her shoes, the perfect match more age revealing than the skin starting to pucker in her neck. She had at least ten years on me, I determined, relieved. I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself when I turn thirty.

my problem is – i liked her cold. i liked her savage. i enjoyed her chilling calculations – My favorite strategy is to feign inferiority and encourage my enemy’s arrogance. but as the story progresses, and we learn about her past and what she has lived through (a checklist of lifetime movie themes), so much of what she is now turns out to be just superficial reflexive armor and when the cracks reveal her past vulnerability, i thought the story weakened.

not that her backstory is weak on its own, but this reads like two separate stories fused together, and it’s the joining that is unconvincing.

there’s a reason both megan abbott and alissa nutting have blurbed this. knoll writes the teenage girl stuff so so well, and it’s heartbreaking, but she’s also able to slide a thin blade under your comfort level with shocking scenes just this side of gratuitous.

i’m more interested in/impressed by the heartbreak than the shock, so i’m going to focus on that, even though it’s the shocking things that most readers will remember. this really does a great job covering all the warts of female adolescence; it’s the froth of mean girls mixed with blood and venom: the social performances required to achieve and maintain status, the superficiality, the shame of having breasts enormous and unpredictable without a bra, the boredom of following the crowd, how private letting-off-of-steam appears more sinister under the public eye, the way motives are misjudged, the way there’s nothing sadder than the adolescent rite of passage to have sex before understanding what sexy is, the temporary rise in popularity and the rapid decline after obscure transgressions, and the cutthroat ways that girls enact revenge on other girls. jesus, the scene with the running shorts will NEVER LEAVE ME.

this sums up adolescence perfectly:

I was so tired of everything that was embarrassing about me being on display.

and you don’t come out of that without a little damage; without learning how to hustle and con and pose and manipulate and become an adaptive adult.

and ani’s damage is worse than most because – again – she has lived through every after-school special ever.

and she leaves behind her painful adolescence by distancing herself from everything she was, learning the ropes and ascending beyond her expectations, The place I had worked so hard to fit into that was now beneath me.

but the past never leaves us.

i really liked this book. i wish it had been two different books, because i think it takes on too many issues and it doesn’t present a consistent character, even allowing for change and growth and damage, but it was damn entertaining and i don’t got no triggers, so i liked it just fine.

read my reviews on goodreads

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