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Reviews of Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Bright Young Women

A Novel

by Jessica Knoll

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll X
Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2023, 384 pages

    Aug 6, 2024, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jillian Bell
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the megabestselling author of Luckiest Girl Alive comes another shocking thriller inspired by the real-life sorority and target of America's first celebrity serial killer.

January 15, 1978, is a night of promise, excitement, and desire. A serial killer's murderous spree in the Pacific Northwest couldn't be further from the minds of the vibrant young women at the top sorority on Florida State University's campus in Tallahassee.

That night, Pamela Schumacher, president of the sorority, makes the unpopular decision to stay home. Startled awake at 3 a.m. by a strange sound, she makes the fateful decision to investigate. What she finds outside her bedroom door is a scene of implausible violence—two of her sisters dead; two others, maimed.

On the other side of the country, in Seattle, Tina Cannon has found peace after years of hardship. A chance encounter brings twenty-five-year-old Ruth Wachowsky into her life and they forge an instant connection. But then Ruth goes missing from Lake Sammamish State Park in broad daylight, the same day as another young woman, surrounded by thousands of beachgoers. Both vanish without a trace. Tina is convinced Ruth was a target of the man the papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer.

When she learns of the massacre in Tallahassee, Tina is convinced it's him again. She rushes to Florida, on a collision course with Pamela—and one last impending tragedy.

Bright Young Women tells the story of two women from opposite sides of the country who forge a sisterhood in grief and in the fervent pursuit of justice. Toggling between those terrifying days in 1978 and a letter that brings them together in the present, this is a novel that flips the script on the oft-perpetuated glorification of a sadistic but ultimately average man and instead turns the spotlight on the exceptional women he targeted.


Montclair, New Jersey

Day 15,825

You may not remember me, but I have never forgotten you, begins the letter written in the kind of cursive they don't teach in schools anymore. I read the sentence twice in stinging astonishment. It's been forty-three years since my brush with the man even the most reputable papers called the All-American Sex Killer, and my name has long since fallen to a footnote in the story.

I'd given the return address only a cursory glance before sliding a nail beneath the envelope's gummed seam, but now I hold it at arm's length and say the sender's name out loud, emphatically, as though I've been asked to answer the same question twice by someone who definitely heard me the first time. The letter writer is wrong. I have never forgotten her either, though she is welded to a memory that I've often wished I could.

"You say something, hon?" My secretary has moonwalked her rolling chair away from her desk, and now she sits framed by my open office door with a ...

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BookBrowse Review


This book is not an edge-of-your-seat slasher story. Those looking for a thriller to read with popcorn in hand will be disappointed. The crimes are viewed from the perspective of the victims and those close to them. Knoll never for a second lets us see them as anything less than dearly loved and fully human. The murders are not gripping. They are devastating. Pamela is present in the sorority house when her friend is killed, and witnesses the murderer running out the door. Her reactions are notably realistic. Knoll shows her as neither heroic nor cowardly, but as someone struggling to process what has just happened...continued

Full Review Members Only (598 words)

(Reviewed by Jillian Bell).

Media Reviews

CrimeReads/LitHub, Most Anticipated Books of 2023
Jessica Knoll is a careful writer, and this, her third novel, is a perfect match for her cold dissection of social mores and her fierce rage at misogyny. Knoll takes on the story of Ted Bundy, told from the perspective of a student who survives a horrific attack on a sorority house...Some may claim that the crime genre is rift with misogyny; those people have not read Jessica Knoll. She tears apart the restrictive world of women's roles and lays bare the purpose of such hobbles: to keep women from making a scene, to keep them from seeking justice, and most of all, to keep them from seeking their own lives.

New York Times
Bright Young Women is packed with moments when you feel the size of the deck stacked against any woman, young or old, who dares to be 'bright.' There's always something in the dark that curses the glittering and the hopeful. Knoll doesn't make Pamela's journey (or ours) an easy one, but it ends in a cathartic, long-bottled-up scream that more people need to hear. And, one hopes, the telling of this tale (and more like it) will shred the myth of the 'murderer/genius' one cut at a time.

Booklist (starred review)
An utterly absorbing, disturbing, and absolutely essential read.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Choosing not to name him deflates the myth of the monster, of the charmer, of the criminal genius that people often consider Bundy to be. As the title indicates, this novel belongs to the women...In this world of true-crime mania, Knoll knows that every choice—and every name—matters. A stunning, engaging subversion of the Bundy myth—and the true-crime genre.

Library Journal (starred review)
An unsettling and thrilling page-turner…Knoll's haunting, must-read account will captivate [readers] until the end.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[S]tunning...By focusing on the women affected by her Ted Bundy stand-in instead of the nuances of his criminal psychology, Knoll movingly reframes an American obsession without stripping it of its intrigue. The results are masterful.

Author Blurb Flynn Berry, New York Times bestselling author of Northern Spy and Under the Harrow
Blistering and powerful, Bright Young Women is an almost unbearably vivid story of sisterhood and survival. With razor-sharp skill, Jessica Knoll deconstructs the myth of a criminal mastermind, revealing the women he seeks to destroy as the truly brilliant ones.

Author Blurb Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me
Bright Young Women is Jessica Knoll at her best—an unflinching and evocative novel about the tabloid fascination with evil and the dynamic and brilliant women who have the real stories to tell.

Author Blurb Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone
Bright Young Women is a fearless and intoxicating ride into the aftershocks of a series of brutal murders. Knoll explores in vivid, pointillist prose the effects on the 'bright young women' of the title, both the victims snuffed out in their glorious prime, and those left behind in their wake. It's a compelling, almost hypnotic read and I loved it with a passion.

Reader Reviews

Bookworm Becky 1969

A gripping tale
Escape, survival, justice… Bright Young Women was inspired by the real events surrounding a serial killer in WA, UT, CO, and FL in the late 1970s. The focus of the story is on the sorority house girls in FL, rather than on The Defendant, who ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Ted Bundy and the Myth of the Charming Serial Killer

Jessica Knoll's Bright Young Women, a fictionalized take on the crimes of Ted Bundy, portrays its Bundy-inspired killer as an unimpressive man sensationalized as a charming genius. This echoes real-life critiques of the way Bundy has been cast by the media and law enforcement over the years.

Bundy was one of the twentieth century's most notorious serial killers, carrying out a spree of crimes in the mid-to-late 1970s. He ultimately confessed to the murders of 28 women and girls and was executed in 1989 after being sentenced to death in two separate cases.

It could be argued that the media climate was poised to sensationalize Bundy's story from the start. His murder trial was the first in the United States to be nationally televised ...

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