The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: May 15, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Satire, Pop culture
There is a book for every mood and sometimes, your subconscious knows what you need better than your thinking mind. I had no idea how hungry I was for flat-out over-the-top drama until I finished Jessica Knoll’s newest novel, The Favorite Sister. I was drawn to the book by its premise—a reality TV show about a group of high achieving, self-made, female millennials whose life goals are not focused on marriage and having children. Each woman in the group has found success in a different arena: Stephanie is the black author of erotic novels, Lauren created a female-centric dating app, Jen has a popular vegan line of food and is the group’s new age guru, and Brett is the lesbian founder of spin studios. So positive! So, female affirming! Right? Well, when the novel opens one of these women is dead, so maybe the sisterhood is not as strong as it looks on TV.
The show that’s brought these four women together is called Goal Diggers and as The Favorite Sister begins it’s entering its fourth season. A cast member has left and Brett wants to get her sister, Kelly, approved as the replacement. At the same time, each of the existing women need to make sure they’ve got enough going on in their lives to keep their place secure. Stephanie is releasing an explosive memoir while Lauren has a new dating app coming out especially for the LGBTQ community, and Jen has a new restaurant, but Brett stands to top them all. Not only are her studios taking off, she’s on a philanthropic mission to provide electric bicycles to young women in Africa who are at risk of being raped as they walk miles a day for water. Into this mix she throws another bombshell—she’s getting married! The resulting publicity skews the groups dynamic and the addition of her sister as a cast member makes it worse.
If you are addicted to watch reality TV like I do, then you have some idea of how bad things are likely to go. But the plethora of plot isn’t even what makes The Favorite Sister so good. It’s that Knoll pulls the curtain back on what happens behind the scenes. Through Goal Diggers we learn that the women don’t see each other between seasons, production people share damaging gossip from one woman to another, and make sure that alcohol is always freely available and unmonitored while filming—anything to create drama. Knoll goes on with details that read as not only plausible, but highly likely. That she does so while still moving through her characters’ lives makes for reading that is juicy and feels as much like a guilty pleasure as watching the shows.
As The Favorite Sister progresses the skeletons pop up with more frequency than the swimming pool scene in Poltergeist. Secrets are revealed that threaten everyone involved with the show and innocence is lost all over the place. The novel is the ultimate summer read: plot on top of plot at a pace that seldom slows. But even as Knoll whips up this tsunami of superficiality she stands back from time to time and lets her characters speak the uncomfortable truth, not just about the media, but about America at large. Stephanie cuts especially close to the heart of the matter with
That we task women with helping other women in a society that places us in systemic competition with one another is why feminism has failed. Do not recruit me to link arms with my sisters until more than 2 percent of positions at the top are occupied by women, until her success does not almost certainly guarantee my failure.
By the last 50 pages, I was gulping down this potent combination of satire and outrageous drama like there were only five minutes left in happy hour and I was nineteen again. Because those pages slid down, sweet, nasty, and packing a powerful punch. No matter where you think The Favorite Sister is going to go—it goes another mile past that. If the term cray cray didn’t already exist then these women would have coined it. For some, the novel will go too far with its ‘everyone is a liar’, but for me, it didn’t feel all that different than reading the daily news right now. There is that much lying, scheming, polarizing melodrama going on. And personally, I prefer it in my fiction.