I seem to be on a streak of thrillers as of late. First, I devoured Gone Girl with the same reluctance a five-year-old child has to spinach. Then I got to read a galley of the exciting I Let You Go. Now, my local bookstore has chosen the Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll to be the May book club read.
Luckiest Girl Alive tells the story of TifAni FaNelli, who has spent the last twelve years trying to build a perfect life. For TifAni, that means a high-class name, shortening TifAni to Ani, a wealthy fiance, and a New York zip code. TifAni seems to be well on her way to achieving her perfect life, but Ani has a secret, and something else buried in her past. A secret so painful and private that it threatens to bubble to the surface and ruin everything.
Alternating between Ani’s present life working at The Women’s Magazine and her freshmen year at the prestigious Bradley School, Luckiest Girl Alive slowly unravels a tale of a girl’s traumatic past. Ani is drawn back into her old life on the Main Line when she gets presented with the chance to do a documentary. The opportunity brings some conflict between her and her fiance who would rather she bury her past and forget about it.
I have always been one to like the dark side of human nature. When I was in high school I was obsessed with forensic science so much that I purchased several true crime books. (You can bet those made me really popular.) So I loved the psychology that Knoll presents in Luckiest Girl Alive.
This story deals with some really dark themes. TifAni is only fourteen when she is gang raped by two members of the soccer team and the new boy at school. Seeing the way she deals with that event at age fourteen and into adulthood paints a really interesting picture of how society can fail victims.
To be clear, this book is not a take on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In fact, legal justice isn’t the goal of the book at all. It’s TifAni’s journey and her psychology dealing with the need to belong.
It’s a struggle that beecomes clear when you see Knoll’s dedication to the book and later read her essay on Lenny Letter where she reveals that while Ani’s story is fiction, the inspiration is not.
In her Lenny Letter, Knoll writes:
You probably didn’t realize you had acknowledged what happened to me when you acknowledged what happened to Ani, partially because I’ve never publicly discussed that flashpoint in my life and partially because Luckiest Girl Alive is not a memoir or even a roman à clef.
Although I didn’t read Knoll’s Lenny Letter until after I finished the book, the emotions that Ani goes through are very visceral and heartbreaking. These moments kept me reading because I wanted justice for Ani.
As Ani’s story unfolds it is easy to sympathize with her. She’s not just a victim to be seen in the courtroom, she’s a person who lives with this undefined event that happened to her.
She goes about it the only way she knows how, trying to fix it, to be the person that can’t be broken.
As Ani works to redefine herself. As a reader, I found myself constantly asking myself if Ani was really coping with ghosts in her past or if she was running from them. How can her story be different if things had gone differently?
While the conflict throughout Luckiest Girl Alive is mostly internal it was hard for me to keep from turning the pages. You can’t go into this book expecting Gone Girl, there is no two-person push pull the way there is with Nick and Amy.
However, Ani does share a few similarities with Amy Dunne. Someone smart, ambitious and looking for what they feel they deserve. Amy and Ani have different motivations. They have different reasons for their actions but comparing Ani to Amy is unfair–like comparing apples to oranges.
The only way that I felt that the two novels compared was in the train wreck foreboding that both Flynn and Knoll create so well. We know some big revelation, a giant iceberg of an event, is coming but we don’t know the shape of it and we need to know or the story won’t be complete.
Overall, the novel is an interesting portrait of a survivor of a traumatic experience. In the end, I was sad to see Ani go, but her resolution is a good one and I highly recommend the book.
Final Rating: 5 Stars
Have you read Luckiest Girl Alive? Comment below and tell me what you thought of Jessica Knoll’s debut novel.