Title: The Favorite Sister
Author: Jessica Knoll
Genre: Fiction, Drama, Mystery
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️✨ (2.5 stars)
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.
Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative – everyone loves a comeback story.
And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.
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.
Reality TV is like driving drunk. You know it might kill you, but there is something rakishly sexy about participating in what may be your own demise.
Oh, how I wanted to love this book. A murder mystery woven into the lives of five hyper-successful women, layered with all the drama and scandal typical of reality TV? Sign me up. The blurb just sounds so juicy and fun, the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, and if that isn’t enough, that final tagline promises the exploration of a multitude of feminist themes. I wanted it all. But if it sounds like a lot is packed into these 384 pages, well … that’s because it is. To me, at least, the unfortunate side effect is that many of the well-intended storylines fall short.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to enjoy. All of the female leads are badass and unique, hardened by the trials they’ve had to face to get to where they are now. Nothing has been smooth sailing, and now that they’re at the top, they’ll do anything to stay there. The narrative is sarcastic, witty, and incredibly self-aware, and it’s refreshing that no one is above acknowledging their own pettiness or ambition. I love that the chapters bounce between different narrators, giving us different sides of the same story and showing the effects that each woman’s hunger for power has on the rest of the group.
Maybe one day we will live in a world that will binge on five independently successful women doing nothing but building each other up. Until then, we have to occasionally knock each other down.
There’s so much diversity packed into this book that it’s at the point of tokenism, but everyone – author and characters alike – embraces it, which is a new and intriguing perspective. The Favorite Sister tackles important questions of body image and positivity, racism, domestic abuse, misogyny, and so, so many stereotypes about women … this novel will be the starting point for a lot of book club discussions. Unfortunately, the abundance of powerful themes means that the narrative can come off as soap-boxy and repetitive at times, which really is just a shame for what it’s trying to accomplish.
In terms of pacing, it’s a slow start. The first half of the book throws you into the deep end with character background, and it’s initially almost impossible to keep everyone straight – especially given that each of them have different on- and off-screen personas and storylines. I found myself having a difficult time liking or relating to any of the main characters as the plot progressed. All of their voices started to blend together. Having multiple narrators means each woman is able to cast herself as the victim and tear down the other characters, when the next chapter just spins it back the other way.
It was only the last 10% or so of the book that truly picked up for me, but wow, that ending is a wild ride. All of the tensions that have been building the whole novel reach their boiling points, and the plot spirals straight towards murder in the blink of an eye. There are jaw-dropping revelations left and right as the depth of all of the characters’ secrets, lies, and motivations find their way into the open, and everyone starts clawing for solid footing by finding ways to tear each other apart. I didn’t predict one bit of it, but I loved every frenzied twist.
The Favorite Sister has its ups and downs, but it simply wasn’t the book for me. I couldn’t get past the slow start and the increasing difficulty to like the narrators, even if I’m so very appreciative of Jessica Knoll’s attempts to tackle so many relevant and important issues. I don’t think anyone else should discount this book off-the-bat because there’s still plenty about it to enjoy, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.
“Be nice, girls.” She stands, pressing her palms together, like it will require divine intervention for such a miracle to happen. “The whole world is watching.”
Warm thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of The Favorite Sister in exchange for my honest review.