by Andrew Wickenden ’09

Jessica Knoll ’06 always knew she wanted to be a writer — “I always had this passion,” she says. With her debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, a New York Times Best Seller for months, reaching as high as No. 7, Knoll’s passion and hard work has paid off.

Knoll was an Arts Scholar at HWS, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. After graduation, she moved to New York and worked at the talent and literary agency Paradigm, where she met magazine writers and editors (not to mention her agent, her best friend, and her future husband). After an internship at Parenting magazine and an entry-level job as editorial assistant with Popular Science, Knoll’s early experience and persistence led her to Cosmopolitan, where she eventually rose to senior editor.

“I wrote a ton at Cosmo,” she says. “Many of the editors there had their own book careers — my former boss John Searles is an accomplished novelist — so I observed how these people did it, and took the time to decide the kind of book I wanted to write. Magazines teach you to have a perspective and a finely tuned eye, to keep your ear to the ground to find the angle of a story.”

When Knoll began working at Cosmo, “that was the year that a lot of chick-lit novels were all the rage,” she recalls, “but that wasn’t me. I felt nothing for stories like that.”

When she decided she was ready to sit down and write a novel, Knoll wanted to accomplish three things. “I wanted to create a memorable character with a distinct voice. I wanted to create a ripped-from-the-headlines crime story; the psychological-thriller/suspense genre is what I enjoy most, so I wanted that element of intrigue. But I wanted to put my own stamp on that genre — I wanted the book to have a heart. I wanted you to turn the last page and have some kind of emotional response.”

An Instant Best-Seller
Luckiest Girl Alive has been hailed by critics as a “dark, twisty” thriller whose “razor-sharp writing” and “propulsive prose” (Entertainment Weekly) has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl but stands apart with its “humor, cultural insight, and thematic heft” (Alissa Nutting, author of Tampa).

Named one of the Huffington Post’s “18 Brilliant Books You Won’t Want To Miss This Summer,” the novel centers on TifAni FaNelli, a New York magazine editor who seems, on the surface, to have it all: a perfect job, a perfect apartment, perfect friends, a perfect fiancé with whom she’s planning the perfect wedding.

But Knoll upends these early expectations with an unsettling journey into Ani’s high school traumas, which have propelled her on her upward course of success. Alternating between the past and present, each chapter chips away at the calculated shell Ani has built to preserve the life she thinks she wants.

As Luckiest Girl Alive speeds through a series of shocking twists, Ani’s ambition and caustic wit are layered with pathos and gravitas to reveal a complicated heroine whose “completely enthralling” and “devilishly dark” story (Publisher’s Weekly) explores a host of fears and anxieties troubling contemporary America.

“I liked the idea of surprising people,” Knoll says. “I intentionally tried to invert the tropes you see in traditional women’s fiction and play with those. I love the idea of mixing the glamorousness with grittiness. I haven’t read that anywhere. It was organic and unique to my own voice because I wanted to tap into those two worlds.”

Published by Simon & Schuster in May 2015, Luckiest Girl Alive was acquired prior to publication by Lionsgate Films, with Reese Witherspoon producing through Pacific Standard Films.

Witherspoon called Luckiest Girl Alive the kind of novel “that grabs you and doesn’t let go. The hero of the book is a wily, intelligent, complex narrator. This character and the thrilling narrative that she drives are exactly the kind of story our company, Pacific Standard Films, wants to produce.”

As she adapts Luckiest Girl Alive for the screen, Knoll has started work on a second novel, and admits she is “more daunted by the second book than the screenplay.”

“I have a good bone structure in my head,” she says of the new book. “Now I need to sit down and actually write it.”


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