Books - Closer to fine

Author Jessica Knoll reveals more than herself

Wednesday April 13, 2016 04:00 am EDT

From a distance, it appears writer Jessica Knoll has it pretty cozy at age 28. Her fast-paced crime novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, debuted on the New York Times best-seller list last spring, selling more than 450,000 copies. The novel's story follows protagonist TifAni FaNelli in the dark wake of suffering violent trauma. Immediately lumped with addictive lipstick thrillers like Gone Girl, it gathered impressive praise, despite a difficult subject matter. A film adaptation is in the works, too, with Reese Witherspoon slated to produce. Knoll and TifAni, though, turned out to have one very important thing in common: They are both survivors of rape.

A recent Lenny Letter — the popular e-newsletter from "Girls" creator Lena Dunham — published Knoll's heart-wrenching essay "What I Know." The title alluded to the dedication of Knoll's novel, reading: "To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world, I know."

Knoll's essay explains the harrowing gang rape she survived at only 15, also revealing aftershocks like when a doctor wouldn't confirm what happened was rape and her peers' merciless slut-shaming. Fear kept Knoll quiet — for a while.

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It wasn't only fairy-tale success motivating her to break silence. During book events for Luckiest, Knoll heard stomach-churning accounts from scores of fellow survivors. Dunham had reached out before, so when the timing felt right, Knoll says she already had a fitting platform. "It felt like I could really open up and be really candid at a place like Lenny Letter," Knoll told CL during a phone interview. She noted "Girls," "Broad City," and Amy Schumer's work as inspirational, ushering in a new era of realness for women in entertainment. "I'm sure that there was something subconscious going on where this landscape was opening up, and it was bringing me to a place where I felt more comfortable being honest and writing from a real place."

Women giving other women a place to be true to themselves is sisterhood in its purest form. Nevertheless, reviews repeatedly categorized Luckiest Girl Alive as a "beach read." "These are actually real-world issues that a lot of women struggle with and minimizing them to chick-lit and beach reads does a real disservice to everyone, but women mostly," Knoll says.

The tradition of women being fine can keep everyone in one straightjacket or another. Women who, when ready, are no longer willing to be silent inspires other women to feel less alone. Such bravery has given all of us one more example of an imperfect life worth living.

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