Review by Jill Hedgecock
Program Coordinator, Mount Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2016, Simon & Schuster, paperback, 368 pages, $9.51) has been compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. This debut mystery novel certainly delivers on the unexpected twists and turns of these two popular novels. The Luckiest Girl Alive’s story is narrated by Ani (pronounced aw-nee), short for “Tiffany,” and oscillates between current time where twenty-eight-year-old Ani is obsessed with losing weight for her upcoming wedding to wealthy Luke Harrison and fourteen-year-old Tiffany’s first year at prestigious Bradley High School.
Adult Ani is thriving at The Woman’s Magazine, where she writes a sex advice column and is positioned to write serious pieces for The New Yorker when the two magazines merge. Ani seems to have it all and her cynicism initially makes her seem ungrateful and, therefore, unlikeable. At times she is cold, calculating, manipulating, but at the same time somehow compelling. We soon learn that her love for her fiancée has waned and Ani is questioning her decision to marry Luke.
Meanwhile, as the new kid in the prestigious school, young Tiffany is determined to be accepted by the popular kid crowd. Her ambitions soon cause her to make foolish mistakes, particularly in her teenage love life. Although she’s romantically interested in a fellow newcomer to the school named Liam, she settles for Dean, a cruel boy with less than noble intentions. She’s also obsessed with her English teacher/track coach, Mr. Larson. Eventually, relegated to outcast status from the “in” kids, Tiffany befriends Arthur who has a big chip on his shoulder. Little does Tiffany know she’s about to get in way over her head. As her childhood story and upbringing come to light, her character flaws begin to make sense. Tiffany’s narcissistic mother, a social climber more concerned with other’s opinions, combined with her emotionally distant father contribute to Ani’s complex personality.
Ani’s past and present collide when Ani returns to her childhood town to film a documentary about the events that she endured during her first years of high school. Determined to reunite with her former teacher who is now married with children, Ani manipulates Mr. Larson to meet her for drinks. Their reunion leads them back to Bradley, where Ani tries to charm her mentor into an affair.
Luckiest Girl Alive was a New York Times best seller. It was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American author and the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Debut Author. Since its release in 2015, more than 450,000 copies have been sold. The book spent four months on best-seller lists and Reese Witherspoon has optioned the film rights. Jessica Knoll has been a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and the articles editor at SELF.