I read Jessica Knoll’s popular novel, Luckiest Girl Alive when it was released in 2015. I enjoyed the book but HATED the lead character. I mean, we were supposed to dislike her but it almost became a case of me disliking her so much I just wanted to be done with her and the book.
Knoll’s new release again mixes it with contemporary and popular culture as it’s based around a reality TV show – Goal Diggers – which appears to be a mash up of Real Housewives of whatever and Shark Tank. Either way you know you’re in for some faux and real: bitchiness; friendships; and rivalries, as well as some posturing and pouting added for good measure.
The Favourite Sister
by Jessica Knoll
Published by Macmillan
on May 29th 2018
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1509839968, 9781509839964
Brett and Kelly Courtney are the shining jewels in a New York-based reality TV show called Goal Diggers. One of the most popular shows on American national television, its fiercely competitive cast of five self-made women are defined by their success, beauty and ruthless drive to reach the top by whatever means necessary.
The Courtney sisters' rivalry goes skin deep despite the blossoming business they have built together that helps disadvantaged women in Morocco. Harbouring bitter jealousies and dark secrets about their manufactured screen lives they're joined by three other hyper-competitive women who all have their own agendas. And the latest season promises sparks to fly in the quest for even higher ratings.
Vicious backstabbing, scathing social media attacks and finely-tuned scripting draw in the viewing public every week, all orchestrated by the show's omnipotent producers. But even they don't know that season 4 will end in murder...
The book alternates between the (fairly recent) past and the present and across a few characters – namely sisters Kelly and Brett as well as Stephanie, another of the ‘Diggers’
It opens in the present so we pretty quickly learn that Brett is dead but Kelly very much gives us the opinion that she was not liked and very few people mourned her loss.
So it’s weird then that when we flick back it’s Kelly who annoyed me more – desperate for a place on the show that’s given her younger sister newfound fame and fortune. Interestingly their roles were reversed growing up. Kelly was the high achiever and worshiped by their mother, whereas Brett was the rebel who wasn’t expected to amount to anything. Naturally she felt obliged to perpetuate that role so acted out more than she otherwise might have.
Kelly’s life turned a corner however and she’s found herself in her sister’s shadow and it seems like she’ll do almost anything to step out from it.
Brett – as an ‘out and proud’ gay woman who’s building a health and fitness empire centred around body positivity has the favour of the show’s producer (who’s also gay), though her co-stars aren’t as enamoured… viewing her (alternatively) as both an ally and threat.
Although the producers / directors work to pit the women against the other, the women themselves also know what rates and what doesn’t, and are more than conscious of the show’s (and their fame’s) use-by date. Stephanie is more worried than any of the women, and at 34 (older than any cast-member has previously been) believes she needs to go above & beyond to keep her spot.
I really enjoyed this book and Knoll adds in lots of real and supposed twists and dramas. I dislike reality TV and loved the TV show UnREAL (a dating show spoof) so happy to see the brutal and bitchy underbelly of the industry exposed in all of its fakery and scripted-ness. Of course, like UnREAL, what unfolds is more dire (and appealing to the more sadistic
voyeurs, ahem, viewers) than could ever be scripted.
There are a few underlying messages. Knoll doesn’t attempt to be subtle with most, though at times there’s almost a double-reverse-psychology in effect…
It’s okay that we do not get along. It is a dangerous thing to conflate feminism with liking all women. It limits women to being one thing, likable, when feminism is about allowing women to be all shades of things…. p 18
Of course, although the show’s about empowering women (in particular) we’re reminded that we’re sometimes our own worst enemies – and that “real queens fix each others’ crowns” saying. Which is sooooo not the case here – though there are glimpses of empathy and genuine-ness. Glimpses.
Which brings me to the only thing I really struggled with in the novel, which is perhaps a lack of consistency in terms of the characters. I’m not sure if was just me, or if they’re meant to be chameleon-like. I’d normally suggest our perception was tainted by our narrator, but it was often when we were privy to their own thoughts they appeared least likeable rather than through each others’ eyes. Or perhaps the women were really changeable and willing to do almost anything to keep their secrets and the lives they’ve created for themselves.
I know Reese Witherspoon has apparently signed on to produce Luckiest Girl Alive and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the film rights for this are snapped up as well. It’s extremely addictive and would translate well onto the big or small screen.
The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and now available. (RRP $29.99)
I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.