What happens when we try to reinvent ourselves and escape from our past? Does it ever work, or will our past eventually catch up with us, even if it’s an uncomfortable reality?
TifAni FaNelli is the main character in Jessica Knoll’s debut novel “Luckiest Girl Alive” (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Her current self, Ani FaNelli, soon to be engaged to Luke Harrison, is very lucky! But, from the very first page you almost don’t want to like her. I know I didn’t.
I also couldn’t get past her name – why did the author have to make up a name SO contrived? Yes, we learn that TifAni comes from middle-upper class suburb rather than the established, old money area of Philadelphia. But, does her name have to be so…trashy?!? Or, is that the whole point? TifAni and her family live in a suburb full of McMansions and BMWs that scream wannabes, instead of actually being from old money. Perhaps the author did know what she was doing in regard to this horrific spelling of the main character’s name.
TifAni and Ani are very different people. TifAni is the more likeable character and I developed more empathy toward her along the way. It’s hard to extend that same empathy toward Ani, the current version, who is quite vicious with her words, particularly toward other women. But, maybe her past has something to do with it.
As we learn more about Ani’s past, we are able to understand more about her current persona. The current one is obsessed with maintaining the perfect weight, wearing the right designer, lives in THE city (New York City, of course) and colouring her hair most realistic fake blonde. Ani’s built that life alongside her fiancé Luke and her BFF, Nell, someone who has known Ani since her college days. While planning the perfect wedding, Ani is also participating in an upcoming documentary about a tragedy that occurred at her high school. We know that Ani was somehow involved but we don’t know how…yet.
Honestly, I was expecting this to be a much darker novel. It has been compared to Gone Girl, but I just didn’t see it. For me, Luckiest Girl Alive is almost like a Young Adult/Teen novel on the cusp of being drama-filled adult fiction. There’s so much back and forth between the current Ani and her high school persona, TifAni, that this really does read like a YA novel. I actually enjoyed the parts of the novel that were set in the past. Ani was more real to us as her teenage self, and a vulnerability was portrayed that many of us could relate to.
It can be tough when an author’s first novel is compared to such a huge and recent hit (both in book format and on film), but that’s not necessarily Jessica Knoll’s fault. It happens a lot, and as a reader, I do like knowing what books might be similar to other favourites of mine. The genre of the year definitely goes to “women in trouble/turned psycho/with a secret past/commits a crime”, and I really enjoy them, especially when they’re like a psychological thriller (I wouldn’t say that this book fits this description entirely). I read this one in two or three days and really couldn’t wait to read what happened, what big event in her past made Ani this way. I don’t think we ever really learn the reasons for Ani becoming who she is, nor are we left completely satisfied with the ending (at least I wasn’t). I feel like some characters that were introduced to us just suddenly disappeared. That was strange. However, I am excited to see how this novel translates onto film, as actress Reese Witherspoon bought the rights long ago. Who will portray Ani? I would recommend this novel to the right people – not everyone would be interested in reading a book with this subject matter, it is graphic and there is a lot of profanity used (be warned!) – but for me, this book gets 3.5/5 STARS.