The Favorite Sister
by Jessica Knoll
Do you read what you’re told to read, or do you have your own mind and purpose?
Before I start a new book, I have to look at reviews. I just cannot help myself. My husband is the complete opposite – he buys based upon title, subject matter, and cover art exclusively . . . meaning, he never reads the book jacket or the back of the book for a synopsis. I find this incredibly strange, and it is so far beyond the spectrum of my own reading habits that I find it hard to understand. Maybe it’s that I hate surprises, maybe it’s an old tradition I picked up in my adolescence by reading the last few pages first so I’m not blindsided . . . I dunno, old habits just die hard.
I do a lot of reading what I’m told to read, but I think in the last year I’ve been able to find a balance. I buy a lot of books based upon friend’s recommendations and off of what is popular in the Bookstagram world. I also buy a lot of books via hype. I haven’t been too disappointed in this process so far, but I’ve really tried to make a concerted effort to tailor my galley requests from publishers based upon what I personally think sounds interesting. More often than not, I’ve found that authors and books I seek out via galley are not among the most popular opinions on outlets such as Goodreads and Amazon . . . which I find rather interesting and sometimes honestly a little baffling. For example, the book I just read (and loved) – The Favorite Sister – is by an author who doesn’t seem to garner much critical acclaim in the bookish world of readers and reviewers . . . and even this particular book has extremely mixed reviews on Goodreads. I was a bit meh about sitting down and reading it last week but seriously – this novel caught my attention and drew me in like a fat kid standing outside of Willy Wonka’s with a golden ticket in her hand. I finished it within a few days with a resounding WOW as I switched off my eReader.
And still, days later – WOW.
The plot was a little confusing, so I will give the previous reviewers that. You had to pay attention. The author kept dropping little nuggets of information here and there like breadcrumbs in a forest . . . and the way it all came together at the end was nothing short of masterful (and quite resembled a wicked witch’s gingerbread house). There were complicated relationships that you thought you had figured out until . . . well, until you realized you had no idea what was going on and were completely blindsided in the last few chapters. These are the stories I love – love – love to read. These are the truly brilliant writers. These are the ones that will win my loyalty as a reader – the authors who use their own imaginations and don’t simply recycle-rinse-repeat something that has worked for another author in the past.
Without further adieu . . .
So, who’s your favorite Housewife?
The one from New Jersey who ended up behind bars but still somehow was able to retain her McMansion behind the gates? You know, the gates that her $100,000 SUV is parked behind?
The one from Orange County who has had so much filler and Botox and facelifts that you can’t recognize her from Season 1 anymore? So much money but can’t keep a man . . .
Maybe the newbie from Potomac? She’s a bonafide beauty queen, but I hear her mama pays for everything.
Perhaps the one from Beverly Hills, she has such a famous last name. Hotels, right? Oh wait – that’s her sister. I hear she’s writing a TV-show of her own that will tell all.
It’s everyone’s guilty pleasure – the reality show. Especially the ones that feature females. Pitting women against one another and stirring the pot with a bejeweled spoon while waiting patiently for a blow-up (and if one doesn’t happen – simply manufacturing it for the cameras and viewers at home) is what networks do best. It’s a recipe that has worked for season after season, and is showing no sign of slowing down. No matter how many women have sacrificed their reputations, their marriage, their children, or their careers for it, there are still many more waiting in the wings for their turn to take up the crown. Money talks, and the women who sign up to bare it all are more than happy to help the powers-at-be rake it in.
Until they’re not.
Goal-Diggers has its own set of stars, glamorous and shiny like a brand new penny. The five women cast each season are supposed to be showcasing what it means to be a woman-boss in a man’s world – the epitome of feminism – all while being encouraged behind the scenes to ruthlessly cut one another down and spew spiteful comments behind backs clad in Chanel’s latest couture.
Brett is the fan-favorite. Young, out and proud, she’s tatted up and full of feisty passion. She runs her own spin studio – the cleverly named SPOKE – and is a beacon of light in the LGBTQ community. Recently engaged to a vivaciously beautiful attorney and ensconced in her cozy New York apartment, Brett is busy making the right moves on behalf of herself and her company. Proceeds from her studio help fund a relief to young women on the other side of the world . . . women who live in a tiny village right outside of Morocco and who have to walk hours and miles each day “just to get water”. The women in question are being given free bikes on behalf of SPOKE – all so the girls can spend less time walking (and being raped by the men who stalk them on their journey) and more time educating themselves. A worthy cause, right? Sure . . . if you believe it.
Kelly is Brett’s older sister and the keeper of the keys at SPOKE. She’s so tired of being looked down upon, type-cast as the stuffy old woman with the stick up her butt. She’s sacrificed so much for Brett, and so much for her exotically beautiful and surprisingly grounded teenage daughter. If only she could get some recognition or a modicum praise . . . maybe even a simple thank-you from her younger sister. Instead, all Kelly seems to get is grief, especially when she positions herself to become a cast member on Goal-Diggers. Putting herself in the spotlight would never be okay according to Brett, the sister who never got a second look when the two were growing up. Kelly knows that her sister loves having every ounce of the attention and it’s not something she will be willing to share without a fight. Kelly grew up the golden child whereas Brett . . . she will always be the pudgy afterthought. It troubles Kelly, watching Brett’s star shine so bright, especially when she knows where all the bodies Brett had to climb upon to get to where she is today are buried.
Stephanie is an author of smut in the finest degree. After years of churning out moderately successful romance novels and using the reality show as a stabilizer for a waning career, she decided to plunge headfirst into the memoir arena and try to create some buzz around herself. As Goal-Digger’s oldest cast mate at the tender age of 34, she knows she is very near to her shelf life and is sure to be put out to pasture if she doesn’t do something sensational. She’s watched with increasing trepidation as her position as one of the show’s few standing sisters has begun to shift; she is no longer fresh-faced and new, as Brett has stolen that spot. Brett used to be her best friend and her valued confidante. The new star of the show used to live in Stephanie’s Upper East Side townhouse, where they’d share secrets and . . . other things. But now that things have taken a turn and are smelling sour, Stephanie has to wonder how far she go to remain on the show. How far will she go to protect Brett’s secrets? How far will she go to protect her own?
Jen and Lauren are for all intents and purposes, the throwaways. Fillers. Fodder. Pillows full to the brim with stuffing. Two women harboring hatred and pain that is carefully hidden behind manicures, blowouts and professionally applied makeup, they round out the cast of characters in ways that the other women cannot begin to comprehend. Jen is known for her vegan lifestyle, her tiny figure, and her huge line of health juices with clever names – but she’s busy binging on forbidden fatty meats and wine when cameras aren’t in the room. But that’s not all she’s up to, and she will take her secrets to the grave. Lauren is the house drunk but swears she’s sipping water from the bottle she carries around in her Chanel bag, a bottle that she has a Kung-fu grip on. How much does Lauren see and remember through her constant haze of vodka and tequila? And how much do the cast-off duo know about what is going on behind the scenes? How much are they involved in . . . personally?
When Brett’s murder caps off a scintillating season of Goal-Diggers and sends the cast reeling internally, it’s what they show to the outside world that is the most revealing. Everything and everyone has their place, and the network won’t let them forget who was the favorite.
The Favorite Sister is the newest novel by Jessica Knoll, a former editor for Cosmopolitan and Self magazines, and author of Luckiest Girl Alive.
Going back to what I said before about reviews – I just couldn’t believe how split down the middle they are for this book. For me, it was a home run. I am a HUGE Housewives fan and it was obvious how much the author drew from that scripted reality series (talk about an oxymoron) to shape her characters. It was rich with background information and the nasty in’s and out’s of production, things that I just ate up with a spoon.
I have to wonder if those who disliked the book had a hard time following it. It’s packaged as a quick thriller or as chick-lit, but it’s deeper than that. You have to pay attention. And you don’t even realize how much attention you need to be paying until about halfway through the book when you see what’s beginning to unravel between the women. I actually want to read this book for a second time to see what little details I missed the first time around.
There were some uncomfortable moments and some traditionally-taboo themes. Racism, vicious self-doubt, homosexuality, being an imposter, feeding off of hate and pain, eating disorders, blatantly using something tragic for your own self gain . . . this novel was full to brimming with all of that and then some. There were a few monologues that I could have done without; the author seemed to enjoy the sprint of tangents, which makes the different perspectives really come in handy because at some point she has to give up and switch off. Zero of these characters are likable, including the teenager . . .
But . . . I mean . . .
None of the Housewives are likable either, right? And we still love to hate them. Season after season. City after city. Bankruptcy and divorces and estranged children notwithstanding.
This novel was fascinating and a page-turner. It was gritty and gross. It was shocking and seductive. It leads you down this dark and twisty path that you don’t really want to go on, but you can’t help yourself. It was brilliant, and I loved it, and I have to give it all the stars.
So, five stars from me for this backstabbing and bitch-full read.