• Title: The Favorite Sister
  • Author: Jessica Knoll
  • Edition: Kindle Edition
  • Published: May 15, 2018
  • Page Count: 384 pages

“When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder… Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her castmates. Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret. Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt. The Favorite Sister explores the invisible barriers that prevent women from rising up the ranks in today’s America—and offers a scathing take on the oft-lionized bonds of sisterhood, and the relentless pressure to stay young, relevant, and salable. (Synopsis from Goodreads)”

I was a big fan of Jessica Knoll’s prior novel, The Luckiest Girl Alive and thus very eager to sink my teeth into her latest buzzy read. Unfortunately I found myself quickly disappointed in this shallow, listless, and flat-out boring read.

Not only does the book feel aimless with its endless streams of consciousness, brand-naming, and persistent lesbophobia, racism, and fat-shaming, but it seems to lack a central focus, direction, or even a sense of what it was she was trying to say. It’s one thing to be insensitive for the sake of satirical nuance or in order to speak on behalf of something, but when your story ambles in desultory fashion and your characters are all vapid, pious, incessant narcissists you start to wonder.

Two other buzzwords capitulated on and used to death? Rape and obesity. Rape is weaponized and used in a very disconcerting storyline, used as a metaphor which is never a good call in my opinion, and tossed around like a candy dish of edgy jokes to be toddled out by each vicious, cut-throat “goal digger.” Brett, the openly lesbian character, is belittled and mocked for being fat, both through dialogue and through internal monologue.

It feels cheap and personal to say things like “she responded to every plus-sized crybaby and apologized.”

I read several reviews of this novel proclaiming Knoll a genius for daring to look beyond the materialistic veneer women put between themselves and each other, in particular through the looking glass of reality television. Goal Diggers is a none-too-subtle jab at the Real Housewives franchise and I understand that, but Knoll’s trademark caustic barbs and dark humor felt overwrought and frankly, mean-spirited in a way that didn’t serve the story. It felt like she was slapping the message “women cannot be successful without tearing each other down” on every single page.

Perhaps Knoll merely wanted to show the irony of these women supporting a show that proclaims to be everything other reality shows are not despite the opposite being true but by the end of this, I didn’t feel vindicated I felt dirty, belittled, and as if my morals and I had been eviscerated, with some Cosmopolitan glamor thrown in, for 384 pages.

I sought out the compelling plot, for a moment when the girls finally made it to Morocco I thought I might have found it but it disappeared just as quick. That’s not to say it was all bad, Knoll is clearly a very talented writer and knows how to turn a phrase but the book rambles on endlessly with no clear direction. It was a chore for me to get through so I can’t recommend it, though it seems to have generated a great deal of dissenting opinions so maybe you should give it a shot anyways and see how you feel. If you’re not into it by the 30% mark I’d advise jumping ship because it doesn’t change much from there.

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