In The Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, TifAni never speaks about the awful secrets in her past. She’s rebranded herself as upscale Ani, with a high-powered magazine job, an eating disorder, and blue-blood fiancé. But a new movie about the horrific school attack she survived years ago threatens to unearth all her secrets.
In Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead, by Jenny Hollander, Charlie never speaks about the awful secrets in her past. She’s rebranded herself as upscale Charlotte, with a high-powered magazine job, an eating disorder, and blue-blood fiancé. But a new movie about the horrific school attack she survived years ago threatens to unearth all her secrets.
Ok, I guess you can see why I picked these two dual-timeline thrillers as readalikes. If you like one, you’ll probably like the other.
There are similar vibes through both novels. Of course the highly competitive, intense NYC magazine timelines have similar feels, with cutthroat workplace dynamics and then an old-money fiancé opening expensive wine in a gorgeous apartment at night.
Both Ani and Charlotte have top educational credentials and a working-class background. But for Ani, there’s an upfront social climbing in her admission to the Bradley school as teenager. Her mother has selected it, and Ani — still TifAni here — starts to see the gap between her parents’ life and her old-money classmates’ lives. She’s already keenly aware that her clothes, hair and lifestyle are wrong, and that by mastering the old-money vibe, she can have the kind of life she’s ultimately setting up for with wealthy, blueblood Luke in the start of the present-day timeline.
Charlotte applied to a top school on a whim, in a true main-character way, and is suddenly in New York at an elite, prestigious writing program. This vibe of just happening upon key points, like the grad program, the new bestie down the hall, the school boyfriend, etc., carries through the memory timeline of the novel. The periods where she’s kinda drifting highlight the intense times in her life in the present-day timeline.
There is an intensity in the present-day scenes in Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead, as we wonder just what Charlotte is capable of. Her punishing exercise, manipulation skills, and intense work routine show discipline and calculation, and she has a horrible Unspeakable Secret relating to a murder at school, years ago. It takes a while to even figure out who was killed or why or when, partly because Charlotte’s mentally blocked out most of what happened that night in order to have her successful Manhattan life. But now that another survivor’s working on a movie telling her side of the story, Charlotte has to uncover what’s happened. In true intense, manipulative style, she convinced her therapist to help her with unblocking, on her own intense, competitive schedule.
Charlotte’s lost memories follow the Unspeakable Secret trope a bit here. I still liked it, but the hints are so dramatic that by the time we find out what actually happened, it can’t possibly be as bad as has been hinted and implied. Also — spoilers ahead! Stop now! The weirdest fakeout in Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead is simply that, well, not everyone is dead. In fact, one character who’s constantly described as Charlie’s lost bestie, and discussed in the past tense, is just fine. I love a big reveal in a thriller, but when we see Cate’s alive and has been fine the whole time and has not only forgiven Charlie, but half of Charlie’s worries didn’t remotely happen, it felt more like a comic book death. I mean, one definitely could dedicate their documentary to their perfectly-fine sister, and one definitely could ask their therapist never to mention the name of a perfectly-fine old friend, but I eventually felt more jerked-around than shocked.
Without too much of a spoiler, Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead contains one of the best nickname-fakeouts I’ve read in ages. You know the name fakeout in thrillers, right? In a dramatic reveal, it turns out that sweet bestie EJ is actually Lizzie! She was really Elizabeth Jane the axe-murderer the whole time! Aaah! I loved it here, not gonna lie. There’s a double reveal, and we’ve already been carefully led to ignore the clues around this person’s connections.
The resolution of the novels is where they diverge, although I still think any reader who enjoyed one will enjoy the other. While Charlotte’s backstory continually hints that she’s a terrible person, capable of horrible deeds, the realization has more to do with being surrounded by twisted people with their own disastrous agendas. Ani, though, has told the story about being a random friend of a school shooter, and how she managed to escape being one of his many victims. The final resolutions of both show much, much more to the stories. Those layers of truth and lies, memory and manipulation, make for such great thriller reads, with an element of class and privilege behind the narrative.