Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, released May of 2015
Ani is the Girl Who Has It All. She has a prestigious New York City job at the Women’s Magazine, a rich, handsome fiancé… and a deep, dark secret. Is all of her hard work and ambition simply masking her wounds from her teenage trauma? Can she find security and happiness with a man she’ll never allow to truly know her?
This book was trying to do a lot. It dealt with a lot of serious topics, such as eating disorders, sexual assault, and PTSD. However, none of these topics ever felt like they were treated with the gravity they deserved; instead, they took a backseat to establishing a “catty bitch” persona for Ani, the protagonist. She spends an eye-roll inducing amount of time scrutinizing other women’s wardrobes, careers, and overall worthiness to be graced with her presence. I get what Knoll was going for here; at her core Ani is painfully insecure, and all of this cattiness is a smokescreen to mask it. All of this may have been effective if Knoll had ever moved past this device and had Ani try to deal with that in a meaningful way. Instead, the book is wrapped up hastily and without any satisfying resolution on that front.
I’ve read and enjoyed many books with unlikable protagonists; I don’t need to want to be best friends with the main character to love the story, but in this case, Ani’s lack of amiability was like fingernails on a chalkboard: impossible to ignore. It doesn’t help that, despite Ani’s glaring flaws, she’s still a far better person than the majority of the other characters. Who am I meant to be rooting for in this book?
The Luckiest Girl Alive has been compared to Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn should be deeply insulted. I get where it comes from; Ani is clearly Jessica Knoll’s attempt at a knockoff Amy Dunne. The difference is that, while Amy Dunne is clearly not a good person, it’s still genuinely fun to get inside her head. She feels totally justified, and hey, what woman didn’t feel a little tingle of righteous indignation after her “Cool Girl” monologue? Who didn’t derive just a little enjoyment out of watching Nick Dunne squirm? Amy is charming and frightening in equal parts. Ani is simply… irritating.
The twists and turns were also agonizingly predictable. Knoll slowly works towards revealing two major traumas that Ani suffered as a teen, neither of which comes as a shock. They are both a bit cliche and so strongly foreshadowed that Knoll may as well have included them in the blurb. Ani’s engagement is also clearly doomed from the start; her barely concealed contempt for her fiancé makes one wonder how she ever convinced herself for a moment that this man could be the source of her salvation. She seems to spend the majority of the book putting Herculean effort into maintaining a relationship with a man she loathes, purely for the status and security of it all. Because being miserable as an adult is totally worth it to shove it in the face of the teenagers who cast you out? No, Ani. It isn’t.
This book was frustrating and lacked suspense. It threw one hot-button issue after another at us as if in the hopes that one of that might stick, while doing precisely nothing to explore those topics. Worst, though, it was simply not emotionally engaging. Ani is a mess and Knoll never succeeds in making the reader care enough about her to want her to become anything more than a mess.