Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Third Book Review: “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

If you’re looking for a really fucked up book to read, look no further than “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll. This book is not for the squeamish, not for the sensitive, and not something you can easily put down or forget. That being said, I enjoyed this fucked up book.

To some people, being the popular girl in school is the whole point of high school. At whatever price that may be. This is a mindset that Ani carries over into her adult life. When the book starts out, we meet Ani as she is engaged to the perfect guy – smart, attractive, rich, and from a good family with proper lineage. And Ani is a fake-it-until-you-make-it kind of girl that spends all her time projecting this image so no one guesses where she really comes from or what horrors occurred in her past. Even with regards to her perfect fiancé, she keeps her darker thoughts tucked deep down. “I told Luke about that night at a time when he was enamored with me, which is the only time you should ever tell anyone something shameful about yourself – when a person is mad enough about you that disgrace is endearing.” (Luckiest Girl Alive, pg 89).

With a totally unsympathetic mother, it isn’t hard to understand the attitude that Ani takes on life. Ani was a very interesting character. We see her first as this successful woman in New York City, and just have hints about what happened in her past. But then we learn bits and pieces about what happened and how she rose up to be one of the popular girls just to have it all come crashing down. Her ability to cope despite the complete lack of helpful and available adults is astounding. The one teacher that tries to help her she pushes away because she is so unused to kindness that to accept his help seems to her to be a form of weakness. Ani learns that the only person you can count on is yourself. And that is what she builds her life on. “I saw how there was a protection in success and success was defined by threatening the minion on the other end of a cell phone, expensive pumps terrorizing the city, people stepping out of your way simply because you looked like you had more important places to be than they did. Somewhere along the way, a man got tangled up in this definition too. I just had to get to that, I decided, and no one could hurt me again.” (Luckiest Girl Alive, pg 288). In some ways, Ani is one of the strongest characters that I’ve seen. She certainly refuses to let tragedy defeat her, no matter what form it takes.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. It isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. There is a lot of brutally raw and upsetting experiences that Ani lives through in “Luckiest Girl Alive” that those who do not have a strong stomach would likely not enjoy this book. It could also serve as a trigger to those with tragedy in their pasts. But if you can stomach it, I don’t think this is a book you will soon forget. I liked the brutality of Jessica Knoll’s writing and I would be interested to see what else she writes, however, I’m not sure I would pick this up for a reread anytime soon.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman

“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman arrived on my doorstep last week and I spent several minutes wondering how I ordered books that I didn’t remember putting in my basket. I thought there must be a conspiracy and then I remembered the dangerous button ‘one-click-ordering’ on amazon.com. Luckily, upon picking up the book, I saw a ‘happy birthday’ note from my (soon-to-be) brother-in-law underneath. So I wasn’t ordering books in my sleep! With relief, I picked up the book and decided to put it on my short to-read list. The next day I picked it up after I was done with work and settled in to read until FH got home. Well, he was running a bit late and before I knew it I had read the entire book in one sitting. That’s a pretty decent way to gauge if a book is any good, right?

This novel has recently been adapted into a movie, which is part of the reason it came up on my radar. I wanted to make sure to read it before I saw the movie and I was thrilled at how quickly it came to be mine after I added it to my amazon wish list. “If I Stay” begins with a car accident that leaves a seventeen-year-old girl Mia an orphan in a coma. The story follows her as she struggles to understand what happened to her, what happened to her parents, and what happened to her younger brother. Mia is following her damaged body around, from the scene of the accident to the hospital to surgery to the ICU and back. It was a very interesting take on what a person goes through after a traumatic event. The story is told in a series of flashbacks where we get background on Mia and her family with present-day Mia trying to make sense of it all.

Personally, I enjoy stories being told in this fashion. I like finding out about a character in bits and pieces. It helps to explain how she is coping with her current predicament and how she got to where she is now. One thing that is quickly learned in “If I Stay” is that Mia is an accomplished cellist, a fact that is a little unusual considering her dad was a ‘rock and roll’ musician and her mom a groupie to his band. On the same page of “If I Stay” it is established that her parents are not big fans of classical music, which is what Mia primarily plays, and that she often wonders about her choice to go in a different musical direction. “I know it’s silly but I have always wondered if Dad is disappointed that I didn’t become a rock chick. I’d meant to. Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class – it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing. It’s been almost ten years now and I haven’t stopped.” (If I Stay, pg 8). The passion with which Mia describes her music I found to be intriguing. I have never experienced that kind of thirst when it comes to playing an instrument. I have always enjoyed playing piano, however it isn’t something that I feel I would be incomplete without. That is the impression that you get from Mia with regards to her cello, that without her music her life would be incomplete.

In addition to learning about Mia’s passion with music during the flashbacks, we also are able to see how much love there is in her household. I loved the subtle humor that was included in “If I Stay”. Her parents’ joking was great. ““You were like an experiment,” Dad said. “Surprisingly successful. We thought it must be a fluke. We needed another kid as a kind of control group.”” (If I Stay, pg 85) Without it, the book would have been unwaveringly depressing. It was still a depressing book, obviously. It’s about a girl in a coma trying to decide to live or die. But there were some moments that were lighthearted and I appreciated that. I also enjoyed how her parents spoke to her. At this point she is seventeen and her parents are straight with her. They’re not overly protective, but rather they deliver blunt truths to Mia, especially in regards to her boyfriend, Adam. There are some unique challenges of being in love with a musician whose band is gaining popularity and being at the age where Mia is planning her own future in college. “But I’d understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch.” (If I Stay, pg 211). Very eloquently put.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think it was well done. I think that Gayle Foreman put forth an intriguing story. Mia is faced with a choice that is impossible to make and it was really interesting to read about her trying to put things together, to make sense of an impossible situation. It was an easy read – I got through it in a few hours – but it was one that made me want to keep turning the pages. This is the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.