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Book review: Bright Young Women

Jessica Knoll’s gripping thriller Bright Young Women reimagines the events surrounding one of America’s most notorious serial killers through the eyes of the women impacted by his actions.



In Bright Young Women, we follow the stories of Ruth, a recently divorced young woman trying to find her way in the 1970s, and Pamela, a sorority president tasked with “moving forward” after an intruder attacks her sisters, killing her best friend Denise. Tying their threads together is firecracker Tina, who’s both Ruth’s girlfriend in 1974 and, in 1978, the person who alerts Pamela to the true identity of the man who killed her friends.


The man, of course, is Ted Bundy, though he’s only referred to as “the defendant” in Bright Young Women—a purposeful choice on behalf of Knoll, who succeeds in taking away his notoriety while giving a name to the women he affected.


A change of pace compared to her first two novels, Bright Young Women is a historical thriller rooted in truth. I had to keep reminding myself it's fiction. It’s inspired by a real-life case that many of us know quite a bit about thanks to documentaries and true crime books. By focusing on the victims and survivors, it flips the narrative on its head, veering away from the predictable or sensational.


It's emotionally gripping and suspenseful. Knoll's writing is, as always, superb. I found Ruth’s final chapter to be downright bone-chilling to read. I applaud Knoll for her fresh take on the true crime genre, for not romanticizing a killer, and for crafting a relatable, moving tribute to victims and survivors.


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