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The Scarlet & Black

“Luckiest Girl Alive”


Column by Susanne Bushman

To be honest, I didn’t plan to review “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, but as someone who often opts for more strictly ‘literary’ books, it fell by the wayside after I read it. It quickly crashed into my mind again, however, over spring break when the author made headlines, sharing her story.

“Luckiest Girl Alive” follows in a new trend of female-centered psychological thrillers, started by bestsellers like “Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” They’re compelling, fast-paced and extremely popular. I read them when I want to get wrapped up in a book, even if they aren’t always the most thought-provoking.

This thriller follows Ani, full name TifAni FaNelli, a status-conscious young woman, who has worked tirelessly to achieve a normative idea of perfection — perfect job, perfect appearance, perfect fiancé. She works at a women’s magazine writing about sex and relationships, which gives her access to all the beauty and status symbols she could want.

But, as with many stories in this genre, Ani has a secret — one that it’s time to come out with. Despite reservations, she returns to the scene of her traumas, her high school, to participate in a documentary. She wants to appear perfect, far from how she was in her younger years.

Interwoven is the story of Ani’s high school days, where she first started her search for status upon beginning at an elite prep school. She seeks to join the cool girls and sets her eyes on a soccer stud. Her modest success is squashed, however, when her romantic pursuit ends in the worst way possible.

Ani’s twisted search for perfection and somewhat disturbing inner thoughts compel the reader through this book, perhaps more than the desire to discover Ani’s secret. Knoll reveals information carefully, weaving a tale so complicated and intricate that the ending comes as a genuine shock.

Though this book was fun and exciting to read, I initially set it aside and didn’t think of it much further, until I saw Knoll’s name in the headlines of literary sites last week. Since this book came out, Knoll has adamantly denied that she “is” Ani, even though there are several key similarities between the writer and character. At the end of March, however, Knoll made the brave choice to confess another similarity between her and Ani, which acted as inspiration for her. She, too, was gang raped as a teen.

Knoll, in an essay written for Lena Dunham’s curated website “Lenny,” speaks to the way that writing this book and getting it published helped her find unexpected supporters in her editors, readers and reviewers. She recalls the incident, very similar to the description of her character’s rape, and the stigma she, like Ani, felt afterward.

She also gives new meaning to the dedication of her novel, which reads “To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world, I know.” She used to claim that it meant that she understood the feeling of not belonging, but never added, as she does in her essay, “I know what it’s like to shut down and power through, to have no other choice than to pretend to be OK.”

Knoll came forward with this information, according to an interview with the “New York Times,” so that other people feel as though they can talk about it and so that they know they don’t need to feel ashamed. Her bravery and honesty about the issue are so admirable to me and I feel her desire to address rape culture is a step in the right direction for the book publishing industry, so often dominated by patriarchal values. Dark and enthralling, feminists and literary thrill seekers alike should turn to “Luckiest Girl Alive” for compelling reading.

—Editor’s Note: Susanne Bushman is a Copy Editor for the S&B.

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