First Read of the Year: Bright Young Women

Posted January 12, 2024 / Book Reviews, Review Roundup / 1 Comment

First Read of the Year: Bright Young WomenBright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 19, 2023
Format: Audio/Physical (384 pages) • Source: Everand, Purchased
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An extraordinary novel inspired by the real-life sorority targeted by America's first celebrity serial killer in his final murderous spree.

January 1978. A serial killer has terrorized women across the Pacific Northwest, but his existence couldn’t be further from the minds of the vibrant young women at the top sorority on Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee. Tonight is a night of promise, excitement, and desire, but Pamela Schumacher, president of the sorority, makes the unpopular decision to stay home—a decision that unwittingly saves her life. Startled awake at 3 a.m. by a strange sound, she makes the fateful decision to investigate. What she finds behind the door is a scene of implausible violence—two of her sisters dead; two others, maimed. Over the next few days, Pamela is thrust into a terrifying mystery inspired by the crime that’s captivated public interest for more than four decades.

On the other side of the country, Tina Cannon has found peace in Seattle after years of hardship. A chance encounter brings twenty-five-year-old Ruth Wachowsky into her life, a young woman with painful secrets of her own, and the two form an instant connection. When Ruth goes missing from Lake Sammamish State Park in broad daylight, surrounded by thousands of beachgoers on a beautiful summer day, Tina devotes herself to finding out what happened to her. When she hears about the tragedy in Tallahassee, she knows it’s the man the papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer. Determined to make him answer for what he did to Ruth, she travels to Florida on a collision course with Pamela—and one last impending tragedy.

Bright Young Women is the story about two women from opposite sides of the country who become sisters in their fervent pursuit of the truth. It proposes a new narrative inspired by evidence that’s been glossed over for decades in favor of more salable headlines—that the so-called brilliant and charismatic serial killer from Seattle was far more average than the countless books, movies, and primetime specials have led us to believe, and that it was the women whose lives he cut short who were the exceptional ones.

This was a really surprising first book of the year for me. I thought about making it my last book of 2023 but it was too clean and nice to end the year at 115 books instead of 116 😉 I just took a little reading break for a few days as we ushered in the new year and I got over being sick.

BRIGHT YOUNG WOMEN follows two women on opposite coasts affected by the same serial killer. Pamela’s sorority house is broken into – two girls are murdered and two are gravely injured, and she is dealing with the fallout as sorority president and friend to these girls. She soon encounters Tina, a woman who believes she knows who the killer is… Her friend Ruth (the other POV we get in the book) was one of his victims before he made his way from Washington to Florida. As you may be able to tell, this story is based broadly on Ted Bundy and his horrible acts across the US.

I was on the fence about reading this book and hadn’t even marked it as “to read” on Goodreads when I bought it on a whim at the store and started it within the week. I don’t follow serial killer true crime stories or podcasts because the victims aren’t at the forefront so my only knowledge of the man “featured” in this book was the Zac Efron movie (watched only because of said actor).

This reads like a true crime story but it’s largely fiction based on real events. I loved that the author didn’t even name the dude, and that this book showed how he truly was instead of how the media perceived him. I loved the women centered in this story and was pretty gripped the whole time… despite there not really being mystery or thriller elements. Like I said, it reads like true crime, but historical fiction at the same time. It left me feeling simultaneously hopeful and unsettled.

I knew this would stick with me and I just think Knoll did such a great job with writing this story and telling the stories of these interconnected women. This was a five-star read based on execution, “enjoyment,” and how powerful it was. I don’t think it’ll end up my favorite book of the year by any means (thinking more about the lack of true mystery/thriller elements and not really knowing what genre to put this in) but I’m so glad I read it. It pushed me out of my comfort zone right off the bat for 2024!

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