Monday, April 20, 2015

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears. 

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

2 out of 5 stars

Suspense, Literary, Contemporary Women

I have a reputation for being a demanding, critical reader who rarely gives a book more than 3 stars. This is not the review to change that reputation.

All you need to know about this book is that the first sentence of the description is seven words long and in eye-rolling all-caps. All that's missing is an emoji to let you know how scary things are about to become.

HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.




I came to several conclusions when I finished this book.

  1. They are going to market this author as the next Gillian Flynn
  2. This book will be the hit of the summer
  3. Book to movie, guaranteed

My first thought, that Gillian Flynn's name would be bandied about as a marketing tool, proved true.


The copy of the book I received from Net Galley had a modern cover that does a fair job suggesting the plot and tone of the book. The black rose told me to expect a dark story, while the acid yellow and pink said that for all its darkness, the book remains young and edgy (and probably fluffy).








Here's the cover we'll see in stores. Gillian Flynn's name is in bold and all-caps at the top, with the words cunning (no), verve (no), and intensity (no) used as adjectives.  The publishers tag this book as suspense (I guess), literary (oh, honey, no), and contemporary woman (bingo).

The Gillian Flynn comparison is tenuous. Flynn is dark and twisted. You wonder what goes on in the mind of someone whose characters store vomit laced with antifreeze in the freezer in the event she has to frame her husband for her murder. Knoll attempts to shock by giving the main character, Ani, dark thoughts that are supposed to leave us wondering what will happen next. This is how the book opens.


I inspected the knife in my hand.  

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wüsthof?” I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly going humid in my grip.  

“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like he’d paid me a compliment. Slender, elegant, graceful—now there’s a compliment that might actually disarm me.  

Another hand, the skin several shades lighter than my own, appeared in the frame and made a grab for the handle. “Can I feel?” I looked up at him too: my fiancé. That word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That Word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal. I could decide not to let go. Slip the forged nickel and stainless steel blade (the Shun, decided I liked it better) soundlessly into his stomach. The salesman would probably emit a simple dignified “Oh!” It was the mother carrying her crusty-nosed baby behind him who was the screamer. You could just tell she was that dangerous combination of bored and dramatic, that she would gleefully, tearfully recount the attack to the news reporters who would later swarm the scene. I turned the knife over before I could tense, before I could lunge, before every muscle in my body, forever on high alert, contracted as if on autopilot.

Any fan of suspense in general, or Flynn in particular, will raise an eyebrow and think, that's adorable. There's rape and drinking and drugs and murder and it's all too much. Like Dina, Ani's mother in Luckiest Girl Alive, Knoll works hard to fit in with the upper echelon and, like Dina, the attempt falls short of success. She's not a suspense novelist. She's not dark enough to leave you breathless. She's not Gillian Flynn. Disabuse yourself of that notion right now if you plan to read this book.

This isn't a bad thing, per se. Not every debuting author needs to be Gillian Flynn. I'm not sure the world needs another Gillian Flynn, but I am positive marketing Jessica Knoll as something she's not is unfair--both to the readers and to the author.

My prediction that Luckiest Girl Alive will be the "it" book of the summer remains to be seen, but the amount of pre-release press the book is receiving has me feeling confident.



The reviews aren't critical reviews (not surprised) but the book is gaining traction from strong word of mouth. Knoll is a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan and articles editor at Self. She understands the power of marketing and packaging, and the biggest package an author can get is a movie deal. Knoll has a movie deal with Reese Witherspoon at the helm.

“‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ is the kind of book that grabs you and doesn’t let go,” Witherspoon said. “The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that she drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.” [source]

That publicity blurb says nothing about Luckiest Girl Alive. You can insert any book title in that blurb and make it work.

‘The Cat in the Hat’ is the kind of book that grabs you and doesn’t let go,” Witherspoon said. “The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that she drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.”

 ‘50 Shades of Grey' is the kind of book that grabs you and doesn’t let go,” Witherspoon said. “The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that she drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.”


"'The Bibleis the kind of book that grabs you and doesn’t let go,” Witherspoon said. “The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that [he] drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.”

While most blurbs are generic and vague, in this case it's fitting. There isn't much to say about this book. Ani inspires a mix of tepid feelings. At first I found her annoying, but not enough to hate her. At most, I felt sorry for her and considered her vapid and ignorant. Then, as the story developed, I was, I imagine, supposed to revaluate and begin to root for her. I didn't. I just shrugged my shoulders and turned the page. Backstory isn't going to change my opinion of a character; it's not how a solid book works--or at least not often. If you want me to go from hating to loving a character, you must first make her truly despicable. I need someone to hate, not someone who makes me roll my eyes. Then give me a series of events that leads to the despicable character's redemption. Show me how this character has changed. Don't tell me why my opinion of her should change. Ani's character redeemed herself, if at all, in the last few pages with a minimum of fanfare.

Some may wonder why I didn't give the book 1 star. There is a method to my (bitchy) madness. I reserve 1 star reviews for those books that are truly awful. Luckiest Girl Alive is not awful. It's marketing plan is awful. There would be more critical acceptance (maybe) if everyone stopped calling it suspense/literary fiction. If you are a fan of women's fiction, you will love this book. If Nicholas Sparks, Sophie Kinsella, and Emily Griffin are your favorite authors, this is your book. It is not mystery or suspense and for the love of everything holy it is not literary fiction. Blindness by Jose Saramago is suspenseful literary fiction. Luckiest Girl Alive is not Blindness, and Jessica Knoll is not Gillian Flynn.

Luckiest Girl Alive is a good beach book, and that's that.

1 comment:

  1. I love you for your dismissal of this as "literary fiction." You called it perfectly.
    Also, I thought The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was supposed to be this season's Gone Girl (which I haven't actually read). I did read TGOTT and it was ok, maybe even pretty good. Was Gone Girl better than that?

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