Luckiest Girl Alive is Jessica Knoll’s debut novel. Published in Spring 2015, it was the book that I first reviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can check my review here.
Due to copyright issues, I cannot reproduce my review here in any form, but I can say that it offers readers one of the most brutal depictions of a gang rape I have ever read. And I am doing a PhD in crime fiction, so I am not the ultra-sensitive kind. Back when I was reading the book I did not give this scene more thought than I would have done in any other book. I was surprised at the brutality of it, yes, but since the book is such a good crime novel I thought Jessica Knoll is the next American crime fiction novelist. However, Knoll herself came out as a rape victim herself in a wonderful and moving letter at Lena Durhman’s Lenny Letter entitled ‘What I know’. Apparently, quite a bunch of women wanted to know more about Knoll’s cryptic dedication:
To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world,
Again, when I was reading the book last Spring – the book that actually got me out of a post-break reading slump – I thought Knoll knew about the pressure to fit into a size 0. The pressure to marry well. The pressure to have that effortless fashion blogger look that I find impossible to emulate. The pressure to be a millennial woman, as my review for LARB shows. But Knoll’s message did not exactly refer to that.
I am writing this post because I want to share Jessica Knoll’s letter (link below), but also because I want to highlight the importance of inscribing and exploring these issues in contemporary crime fiction. Knoll herself decided to share the truth about her book and her life after being approached by many other women who, like TifAni, knew. Many of us didn’t know. Lucky us. But we live in a rape culture in which walking back home alone late at night actually feels dangerous, and if something terrible were to happen to us, we will be blamed for it and that is not how things should be. And we can change that, one step at a time. One of those little, tiny steps, is to talk about our experiences, let other women know they are not alone, and let them know it is was never their fault. Never.
There are many ways in which we can change the discourse and books are crucial: as cultural tools for change, books can help us feel less alone in whatever we are going through, they can expand our views, they can explain our own feelings to us, and it can let us know that it is fine to feel terrible about it – like TifAni does – without shame or guilt. Rape culture needs to stop blaming women when they are actually victims, and I believe books can help us achieve this much-needed change. Apparently, so do Jessica Knoll, Lena Durham and the thousands of people who have read Knoll’s letter and have shown support to her and other sexual abuse victims.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, here are some links that could be useful:
USA: RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) offers victims a hotline, as well as other resources on how to find help.