When my friend Cody first told me about Luckiest Girl Alive, I completely dismissed him. He had lost some book-nerd cred just moments before when he pulled out his phone and skidooed into Instragram to show me Reese Witherspoon’s account that was “chocked full of book recs.” Reese Witherspoon? Of Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama? If she reads at all (which I doubt), it’s probably nothing but Sparks, whose movies always get made into films.
I respected Cody, and I promised myself I wouldn’t let his lapse in judgment cloud that admiration.
Then less than two months later, my school book club chose a book as our Feb. discussion. At the time, I had no idea that Cody’s/Reese’s book recommendation and our Feb. pick was one and the same, until I saw the cover and was immediately taken back to when I was secretly eye rolling Cody while he was browsing Reese Witherspoon’s Insta. The cover is pretty unforgettable.
I’ll read this book that Reese Witherspoon recommends. For the sake of my book club, I’ll take one for the team.
I had read that the book is compared to Gone Girl, which I really liked, so that was a plus, but even as I downloaded a free sample on my daughter’s Kindle, I was deliciously eye-balling three other, “better” reads. I sighed as I began chapter one.
Right off the bat, the narrator, Ani, garnered very little of my sympathy, which was Knoll’s intention, obviously. She’s superficial, mean spirited, and spoiled. Unless I emotionally attach to a character, it’s hard for me to continue, but for the sake of the team, I soldiered on. By the end of chapter 2, however, I was pretty much hooked. If you are unaware, this book takes alternate points of view between the present- day Ani and her 14-year-old-self, TifAni. TifAni, who we meet in chapter 2, is much more likable, but only a little and only because you can excuse her insecurities with her naivety and inexperience.
I thought this was going to be a fluff read, a book with very little substance because, you know, Reese Witherspoon. But I was wrong. Ani and TifAni are both very layered, complex characters who are dealing with difficult situations of which they’ve had some responsibility in creating.
But it’s TifAni’s choices that will have the reader reeling, wanting to both violently shake some sense into her and gently hug her in the same swift motion. What makes her so real is that any reader can relate to her. We’ve all done stupid things or reacted to situations in ways that an on-looker wouldn’t expect or think is normal. For example, TifAni is so desperate to be accepted by her peers that she apologizes to her rapist. She apologizes to him instead of reporting him or enacting revenge on him! And to rub the salt into the wound, several people blame her for the sexual assault because she was drunk and should have known better. Who believes that, let alone says it? A lot of people do, apparently. This type of weakness is despised by others, the feeble and the strong alike, yet our society perpetuates it because many people still don’t understand it.
What makes TifAny’s action (or inaction, if you will) worse is that her self worth is measured only by these same horrible people’s opinion of her, and it’s absolutely heart breaking. However, that’s just what makes her sympathetic to readers. How many of us have limited our worth to the judgment of others? It’s a common adolescent psychological behavior, one that most people grow out of as they mature.
Yet Ani doesn’t. She has kept up a heavily masked facade, one in which she can’t tell the real from the fake. And the effort she exerts to keep up this image! It’s completely exhausting. And sad. And disappointing.
We all do this to some degree, you know, invent ourselves or reinvent ourselves, and that’s why this novel speaks to people. Hopefully we will never have to face the tragedies that TifAni has to, and hopefully we will never have to exhaust ourselves with being people we are not like Ani does. But we are there…somewhere in between the two extremes, praying for acceptance and wishing to better ourselves, hopefully without any collateral damage.
You should take Reese’s advice and read this book. The film adaptation is coming soon, so do your homework and prepare.
P.S. Cody, if you’re reading this, I’m currently following Reese Witherspoon’s Instagram. You were right; I was wrong. 😉