Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’

The one thing that makes "Luckiest Girl Alive" an exceptional book.

Luckiest Girl Alive is another book that I put on my reading list immediately — both for the stellar reviews it was getting and because Reese Witherspoon decided to produce the movie version right after it came out, which had to mean it was really good. Once I started reading it, I had a hard time getting into the story, though. The main character was pretty hard to like at first, but as the story went on I gained a serious respect for Jessica Knoll and how she created a character with such depth.

One complaint I often have about characters in books is that they are too one-dimensional. Too many authors think it’s enough to give a character a favorite TV show and a weird quirk and call it a day. The best stories are ones that bring their characters to life and make the reader forget they’re reading fiction. That’s what happened for me while I was reading Luckiest Girl Alive. There were several moments where I thought I was reading a memoir instead of a fiction book. The writing, plot and characters were that good.

The story revolves around Ani, a woman in her late 20s who’s engaged to her "dream" man and works as a writer at one of the top women’s magazines in New York. The first two-thirds of the book is very mysterious: We know that Ani has a dark secret from her past, that she has agreed to be featured in a documentary about it and that she will do just about anything to appear totally changed and successful for the taping. Beyond that, we have really no idea what happened, other than that it was the changing point in her life.

The book goes back and forth between present-day Ani and her teenage days at a popular prep school, when she was known as TifAni FaNelli. We find out TifAni has been kicked out of her Catholic school for smoking weed, and her parents have sent her to a prep school less for punishment and more for social status, which is obviously very important both to Ani and her mom, even though they both have different opinions as to what that means. We learn of the horrors TifAni faced as a teenager trying to push her way into the popular crowd — many of which seem like they could have been her life-changing secret, but they’re only leading up to it.

Despite being mistreated by the “friends” she’s trying so hard to please, every hit against her only makes TifAni try harder to get into the group. The story is told in her point of view, so we get to see every twisted thought and reaction she has to each event, all of them adding up to make her the calculating adult she is today. That’s what makes Ani’s character so interesting: She can manipulate any situation to get exactly what she wants from it. She can read people and use it to her advantage, even using a coffee date with potential interns at her magazine as a test for whether they should be hired or not.

Ani’s character is extremely smart and perceptive — she’s not one to be tricked, and she refuses to let anyone else but her be in control of a situation. For her, success is all about the outward appearance of her life: her job at a highly recognizable magazine, her engagement to the old money (and therefore the best money) Luke Harrison, her thin figure and designer clothes. Everything she does has a reason behind it, and her motivation to join the classy ranks of her fiancé’s circle goes way back to her freshman year of high school.

Luckiest Girl Alive is a complex character study with so much drama that you won’t want to put it down. I loved getting to see Ani’s imperfections from her point of view and getting to see every scheming, messed up thought she had. The mysterious event from her past didn’t turn out as much of a shock to me, but that didn’t hurt its impact on the book. It was still an incredible story with so many intricate details weaved throughout. It’s no Gone Girl, which is what people have compared it to, but it’s definitely a must-read.

Have you read Luckiest Girl Alive? What did you think? Did you love the character development as much as I did? I’d love to hear…

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