Growing up, my mother always encouraged me to read, and as I got older, I also watched her mom, my Nana, consume book after book after book. It took me a while to find my love of reading, but I finally did at around the age of 18. I think it’s fascinating how everyone enjoys a different type of writing or a different type of story. I’ve enjoyed a mix-up of things over the years, of course influenced heavily by the stage of life I was in – while I was younger and single, I enjoyed reading happy, girly romance novels. Now that I’ve found my match and am engaged, I enjoy delving into some darker topics – but I still love it all! I want to share with you the times when I read a book that really stays with me, and that’s what I’m going to do today. Truly great stories are ones that the reader can identify with, and even fiction, non-self-help books can assist us in becoming a better person.
Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel by Jessica Knoll is a book I mentioned I was reading in my last Friday Favorites, and I finished it this past weekend. It was a fascinating read for me. I could see my (past) self in the story a little bit, in that the protagonist, Ani, is striving to have it all and keep up appearances. I think a lot of us have gone through this, and looking at this behavior from an outsider perspective can be eye-opening. So, since I enjoyed this book so much, I would like to share with you my review, a book report of sorts, on Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel.
Recommended to me by Amazon after I read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I’m so glad I picked up this book. It has the same page-turning and sickeningly fascinating type of darkness as the aforementioned, but the protagonist in Luckiest Girl Alive is so well developed that it sends this book far and beyond the comparisons in my eyes. Told from her perspective, we learn about TifAni FaNelli’s present-day life as a writer for a popular women’s magazine in New York City and fiancé to rich, successful Luke Harrison. The timeline weaves in and out of her past, taking the reader back and forth from TifAni’s high school experience, when she attended an expensive and prestigious private school in a suburb of Philadelphia, her mother struggling to be able to afford it. Author Jessica Knoll zips backward to the past and forward to the present in a way that leaves the reader always wanting to know more. The switches from past to present time sometimes unfold mid-chapter, and even mid-paragraph, but Knoll’s powerful writing makes it surprisingly easy to follow and riveting to consume.
As the reader, you know that TifAni went through a traumatic experience in high school, but you don’t find out the details of it until about two thirds of the way through the book. The experience is something that caused her to try to re-brand herself into “Ani” instead of TifAni, and build a life that would cover up the damage she feels her past has done to her. The level of control Ani appears to have over herself and her life is relatable in a way that’s also unnerving because it toes the line of manipulative so well. Anyone who’s ever tried to “have it all” will probably identify with this character. When the effects of Ani’s younger life begin to bubble to the surface as she creeps closer to both the filming of a documentary on her traumatic experience and her wedding day, we see her begin to confront her reality with some unexpected help.
This book is as much about coming to terms with your true self as it is about social issues that still plague our youth today. It is about empowerment and the strength that comes with vulnerability as much as it is about secrets, lies and sweeping issues under the rug. Ani is a manipulative character, but the author gives you such a straight line to her brain that you don’t blame her for it, and I found myself rooting for her to succeed in any way she wanted – whether it was in the quiet destruction of keeping up appearances, or in the hopeful possibility of really facing the truth. The struggle between wanting external approval and wanting to be true to yourself is at its epitome in this gripping story. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s ever tried to have it all.