Book Review of Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
Writing about sexual assault is difficult enough without making the victim somebody the reader can hardly stomach, but when author Jessica Knoll wrote Luckiest Girl Alive, she did something extraordinarily brave as far as I’m concerned. In making her main character, TifAni a disagreeable, often unlikeable, shallow, vindictive and self-centered individual, she challenged the reader to see beyond the victim’s many personality flaws and concentrate on the larger picture, to the crimes perpetrated upon her.
However, that wasn’t always easy to do. I almost quit reading after the first chapter, but the writing style was so compelling, so in your face that I had to continue. I needed to go beyond my personal dislikes and comfort zone to see where this story was going to take me, but most of all why.
But here’s where it gets interesting because Knoll forced her readers to delve beyond this difficult personality to uncover how she became a victim of sexual assault as well as a survivor of a catastrophic event, which I will not disclose- no spoiler alert necessary. Her story tells of how TifAni, sometimes an over the top personality and overachiever left a trail of poor choices in her wake while making the reader face the fact that despite it all, despite the victims often obnoxious character, - she still never warranted the harm that practically destroyed her. And that was brilliantly conveyed.
Victims come in all packages. As someone who has worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, I learned early on that I would be mandated to help a diverse group of individuals with many different personalities. Most of those I worked with were some of the kindest, most generous souls imaginable. However, that wasn’t always the case. Some, not many, but there were a few individuals that had ‘trying’ personalities. So much so that outside of my work responsibilities I probably would have only politely tolerated them, and even that is stretching the truth. But me “liking them” or not was never the point or an excuse not to afford the utmost dignity and respect to them no matter what their shortcomings were. As a society, we can never allow ourselves to base survivorship on popularity or personality.
And that is where I say the bravery of this author comes through the strongest because she never shied away from exposing a raw and ugly story filled with depravity, pain, and angst. She could have just as easily made TifAni a sweet, loveable type character. The kind most readers would emotionally rally and gravitate to, but instead, Knoll made TifAni into a conniving, manipulative, and self-absorbed girl and later on -woman. Groomed at a young age to hide her insecurities and anger behind expensive purchases, social ranking, along with a career, which harnessed her motivation and desire to remain in control.
Knoll created a novel in which TifAni, the story’s narrator, faces a myriad of indescribable challenges, doing her best to navigate through bullying, peer pressure, a dysfunctional home life and a never-ending desire to ‘fit in’, -at all cost. As a result, of her victimization, her inability to always make sound choices as an adult also remained mired throughout her life. Often making friends and becoming cozy with people based on their social net worth, she never failed to be disappointed. Not only regarding the people in her life falling short of her expectations but of the expectations she only wished she could have lived up to as well.
Inarguably, TifAni was in many ways a user and an emotional predator. Unquestionably convoluted and selfish, she treated people much the same way she had been treated, -but why? Why did this girl, who wanted to be popular, liked, and accepted, go to such dire lengths to secure her special seat at the ‘cool kid’s table,' -despite the fact she was regarded with such disdain? Ridiculed, publically humiliated, and scandalized. And then how was it possible, after all the horrors were set into motion that TifAni still turned to the same people, the same abusers who hurt and abused her, - wishing and praying for their acceptance and absolution?
And again, this was another example of this author’s insight in dealing with sexual assault because more often than not, victims intimately know their abusers. It’s not always stranger danger as we have been led to believe. Abusers can be family, friends, dates, people thought to be trustworthy, and so when they turn around and transgress on assumed moral boundaries causing the unthinkable, the victim is left questioning their role. How to disconnect? How to stay away from somebody who may live under the same roof, sit next to them at work, school, or even in a place of worship? AND, because this person has held a position of authority or social integrity in their life, the question comes back to haunt, who will believe the victim if she or he tells, - and especially when the victim turns out to be an unlikeable, often cunning, ambitious person!
This author also exposed the brutality of the pervasive rape culture, which has permeated even the mindset of vulnerable school-age children and older. She brought her readers, sometimes kicking and screaming into the dark, murky world of rape and abuse. She highlighted the mindset that makes light of issues of entitlement based on social ranking. Knoll also exposed the double standard generously applied to the behavior of children of wealth as opposed to addressing the pressing needs and languishing protection for less affluent children made its victims. All while confronting many of the stereotypes and common misnomers many young girls and women are forced to face, leaving them susceptible to the pressures of a society comfortable in pimping the illusion of perfection.
Luckiest Girl Alive is not an easy read. Many of the characters were hard to stay connected to or care about, but TifAni’s bitter, snarky, and satirical story promises to shock the system.
About the Author [Amazon]
"Jessica Knoll has been a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and the articles editor at SELF. She grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and graduated from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She lives in New York City with her husband. Luckiest Girl Alive is her first book."
Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel by Jessica Knoll Link: http://amzn.com/1476789630