Jessica Knoll’s novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, starts out like Young Adult Chick Lit because the author uses the voice of the main character, TifAni FaNelli. TifAni FaNelli tells her own story and her narrative sounds light and superficial (with an edge), although the subject matter is actually much more edgy than it is light as it turns out.
TifAni, like many teens, is embarrassed by her mother and would like to be included in the top group at her new private school, the Bradley School. She strives beyond her family background, to belong to the Main Line, the name assigned to the most exclusive neighborhood in her city.
The story is told in flashbacks. It is the adult TifAni, now known as Ani (Ah-nee) who, while planning her dream wedding to her dream groom and working at her dream job, also finds herself agreeing to take part in a documentary about some events at the Bradley School. While Ani has been mostly honest about her past with her wealthy (old money) boyfriend who gave her the beautiful emerald and diamond ring she loves to flash, she has not quite told him everything about this documentary or about her feelings towards her seemingly perfect fiancé, Luke.
As she pursues her writing job at the popular NYC publication The Women’s Magazine, spends time with Luke after work, meets her bridesmaids to pick out and fit dresses, plans the venue, food and guests, music, flowers, and invitations we see that Ani’s interior dialogue, which is sort of cynical, does not match the façade she presents to her fiancé, friends and various family members. There is also the suppression of a surprisingly voracious appetite to anorexic levels of food deprivation.
In flashbacks we meet her fellow students at The Bradley School. What happened at her fancy private high school when Ani was fourteen? How traumatized is Ani and is her level of trauma appropriate? How much guilt does Ani bear for these events at Bradley? Does the behavior of her dad play any role in the decisions Ani makes and the things that happen to her? How about her mom’s role in Ani’s life?
This author deftly combines a number of potential landmines that crop up in the lives of young people today and at least one major landmine that we hope remains rare. This is a novel of this moment in time and a novel that should initiate plenty of discussion.
I have a tiny quibble with those who have compared this book to Gone Girl. This may be justified in terms of the rapid success this novel has experienced but this book, however light in tone, explores serious dysfunctions that seem to have been exacerbated by rather complex factors in modern culture. The main character in Gone Girl was a sociopath, but TifAni is not, and Gone Girl, perhaps just as well-written in its own way, is mostly intended to shock and entertain us. Luckiest Girl Alive is intended to expose unhealed wounds in our culture and to get us talking about them. I like the way Jessica Knoll avoids using a heavy hand to tell a heavy story.
By Nancy Brisson