'Luckiest Girl Alive' by Jessica Knoll
I've had this book since it was first released and abandoned it after an early attempt. I finally took it off the shelf when I heard that the film adaptation was about to be released on Netflix, starring Mila Kunis. As I started reading, the reasons I originally put it down came back to me. The main character Ani (pronounced AH-ni) FaNelli struck me as precisely the kind of vapid character I hate reading about. Lots of inner monologue about her clothes and her diet, her carefully curated fiancé and her profession in (of course) the magazine business. Except as I read on, I realized that everything about Ani is a mask and a shield. The book unfolds in flashbacks, telling us how Ani came to be the woman she is, and why she's preparing to marry someone who doesn't know her at all. That made the possibilities for where the book (but mainly the character) might be very intriguing. So I read on, waiting for Ani's catharsis. For me, unfortunately, it didn't come. At least not convincingly.
** BIG, BIG SPOILERS AHEAD!!**
By now, if you've read anything about the film, you'll know that what happened to Ani is that she was sexually assaulted by several boys at her school who were part of the popular clique she was trying to become a part of. That trauma was plenty and the way Ani reacted to the rapes was fertile ground for exploring and explaining how and why she became the woman she now is. Except, the author doesn't stop there. While Ani is still recovering from her ordeal, one of her classmates who was her friend and confidante (and who was occasionally tormented by the same kids who raped Ani) returns to campus after being expelled and shoots a bunch of the popular kids, including some of those who were responsible for Ani's assault.
While I was glad that we saw some of the reasons Ani constructed her mask and chose her fiancé, I thought there was one traumatic event too many. The exploration of Ani's reaction to the sexual assault, which could have been a book in and of itself, was interrupted by this second cataclysmic event, which also could be (and has been) the subject of a really great book. Together, it was just too much. And to compound that problem, the coincidental reentry into Ani's life--and the timing of it--of someone who was pivotal for her during her high school trauma was yet one more thing too many.
Ultimately, this book was just too jam-packed with drama and 'twists' for me, leaving precious little time for me to come to truly come to understand and love Ani. I sympathized with her, and even supported the decisions she made by the end of the book, but I cared a lot less for her than I should have, given what she'd been through. If ever there were issues that called for deep character exploration, these were it, and it just didn't come. At least not to the degree that I would have liked. The transformation of the main character at her core didn't really happen for me. And that was a little disappointing.