The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Received a copy from NetGalley for an honest review

“The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll, who arrived on the scene in 2015 with her debut best-seller “Luckiest Girl Alive,” is an enthralling sophomore novel that doesn’t quite meet the stature of its predecessor but stands on its own.

The story surrounds the “Goal Diggers,” a reality TV show starring successful millionaire millennials like Brett, the mastermind behind SPOKE, a bicycle fitness startup, who just brought Kelly, her older single mother sister on board with the show, along with her beloved niece, Layla. But Brett is dead. This is not a spoiler because it’s in the first paragraph, so the story builds up to how Brett died and how the spotlight contributed to it. She’s dealing with the blowback of her twisted relationship with her frenemy, Stephanie, a top memoirist and novelist, and Jen, a vegan food entrepreneur. In the background are the other cast members such as Lauren, an entrepreneur with a forgettable company; Jesse, the 40something executive producer and show creator, and Vince, Stephanie’s brawny yet empty-headed husband.

The premise in itself sounds frivolous since it’s around a reality TV show, but the characters are withering by the moment from their narcissism and the secrets behind the lives they choose to present on camera. At first, the characters and their lives and careers get entangled in each other with the excess descriptions and witty language, but as the story progresses, the characters who emerge from the verbose debris are Brett, Kelly, and Stephanie. They each get more chapters than the other characters who fade as supporters to the story.

I like Stephanie the best. She’s the lone black woman on the show, but she’s hyperaware of her race and gender and how it affects her reputation. For example, she spends a lot of time constantly pointing out the flaws of her castmates and how it’s impossible to support other women because she’s 34 and will term out of the show for her age. The concept, done in a way buried with trendy verbiage referring to every pop culture reference out today, is something to ponder. Along with the issues of domestic violence, body shaming, single mother shaming, vegan shaming, infidelity, race, eating disorders, and others interlaced in the plot. All of these are thought-provoking issues yet the mask of reality TV world may or may not conceal the seriousness of these issues for the reader.

Mentioning Stephanie as the black woman on the show raised by a single white mother and married to a white husband, the book had diverse characters rare to find in a traditional chick lit novel written by a white female author. At the end, Knoll admits her first novel didn’t really show any diversity and seeing it there and in Hollywood made her want to add more unique characters to this book. Other examples include Brett being a lesbian, Layla being biracial, Jen being vegan cancer survivor, Lauren being an alcoholic, the castmates choosing their trip of the season in Morocco for charitable reasons, etc. The characters show depth with realizing what’s at stake because of what makes them different.

When I started this book, I had a difficult time keeping up with the characters. I actually stopped reading it to read other books due to time restraints, and I thought I wouldn’t return to it. But I had to find out what happened to Brett, and I’m glad I picked it back up. With a fresh perspective, I absorbed the story and the characters popped off the pages. So this book is great for someone who loves those women-oriented reality TV shows like the “Real Housewives” franchises and guiltily imagine things going too far. It’s a more elevated beach read because of the setting mixed with the issues successful women face.