"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review #47: Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

Boss gave me this book. He has this habit of ordering things willy-nilly without knowing too much about them, so occasionally he runs in to what he considers a dud and is kind enough to pass those duds to me. He read the first few pages, told me he couldn't stand the main character, but since he considered me pretty snarky, he thought I might enjoy it. And then told me he wanted to know what the secret was, so I had to read the book.

So I read it. And holy cow, are there a lot of secrets. (And fair warning: I'm discussing some of those secrets in this review.) Too many secrets. WAY too many secrets.

The novel opens with twenty-something Ani (formerly TifAni FaNelli (seriously?)) contemplating her upcoming nuptials to the handsome blue-blooded Luke while also envisioning stabbing him to death. Ani is obsessed with being perfect: ditching the Tif from her name (because how low-brow), taking pains to only wear the proper designers, eating pretty much nothing but the occasional Tic-Tac in order to stay a size 0. From the outset, it's hard (or, you know, impossible) to like Ani, but as the novel goes on, it's obvious that the reader is supposed to begin to sympathize with her. Because underneath the quest to be perfect, Ani is hiding a terrible secret.

Feel free to skip this paragraph.
The secret is that Ani killed a boy in high school. Brutally stabbed him to death. But she only killed him because he and another boy were shooting up the school while also setting it on fire. Which he was doing because he was gay and fat and avenging his humiliation at the hands of the kids he was shooting, and also defending Ani's honor. He considered Ani his best friend, but couldn't handle it after Ani started dating one of the boys who had humiliated him. Who just so happened to have participated in Ani's gang rape at a party six months earlier, which resulted in Ani running to a teacher, who, being young and dumb and wanting to protect his student, took her in to his apartment, helped her clean up, and then reported the rape to the school (but apparently not to the police), who didn't believe him, because not only did one of the boys come from a family that gave enough money to the school to have buildings named after them, but also because Ani denied the allegations, and then began dating one of the boys involved. So the teacher got fired, of course, under suspicious circumstances. And all of this happened because Ani's parents pulled her out of her school and put her in to this private school where she felt like she didn't fit in, and they pulled her out because she and her friends got caught smoking pot, which wouldn't have happened if her boobs weren't so big and her body wasn't so Marilyn Monroe-esque.
I swear, I'm not making this up.

This could have been a good book. If Ani had been just a touch more sympathetic, I could have liked her. I said this about Gone Girl, too; if they had only shown Amy playing with puppies or laughing with children, I could have gotten behind the character, but I just couldn't stand her. Or if Knoll had shown a little growth in Ani. Years later, Ani runs in to the teacher mentioned in the spoiler, and instead of apologizing, or thanking him for trying to help her, which would have gone a long way in showing Ani's road to redemption, we're treated to several chapters of her trying to seduce him, or, more accurately, her complaining about him not trying to seduce her. Yes, Ani was a victim of some pretty horrific events, but she wasn't the only victim, and she wasn't completely blameless. But if even I, who once voted for Jesse Jackson in a mock student election in 1983 because I didn't want him to feel bad for not getting any votes (and yes, that's a true story), can't muster up any sympathy for this woman, then she's truly The Worst Person Ever.

There are a lot of good YA books out there about not fitting in, about trauma, about identity, about screwing up, about grief. This is not one of them.

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