Rape culture is a difficult topic to address due to its scope and sensitivity, but the UMKC Women’s Center and Miller Nichols Library did just that Wednesday, Nov. 2 by discussing Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel by Jessica Knoll.
The event, called The Trauma Behind the Mask: The “It” Girl with a Secret, took listeners through the story of Ani FaNelli, an unlikable and materialistic woman. The story of Ani flips forward and back in time to slowly give readers a sense of who Ani used to be and how a traumatic teenage event shaped her current adult life.
At various points during the discussion, Research and Liaison Librarian Dr. Scott Curtis paused in the novel summarization for conversations about important aspects of the novel and how they relate to our own present society.
“I knew that there was a trauma that was going to happen to her so all these behaviors were kind of typical of it, “said Arzie Umali, Assistant Director of the Women’s Center. “We’ve worked with trauma victims and this topic…. That’s why I think this is a good book to talk about, you know, [and] sexual assault and rape and prolonged trauma and how that affects thought. Especially stuff in the news right now, [with Brock Turner] and the Judge that said that he didn’t want to ruin the rest of Brock Turner’s life by sentencing him to more time in jail, but disregarded his victim and survivor. How is what happened to her going to traumatize her the rest of her life? And it plays out in this book.”
The staff brought up various examples of educated analysis in the book that allude to the present seriousness of rape culture. Not only did the perpetrators in the story clearly buy into rape culture, but the school administration and Ani herself also bought into it. This is reflected in Ani’s initial ignorance of what happened to her as well as the administrative actions that continuously protected their wealthy donor families and, inadvertently, Ani’s attackers.
Knoll does not tackle rape blatantly in her novel. Instead she lets Ani’s story gradually unfold before the reader amongst other traumatic events during her development. While the story is a darkly moving one, Knoll is able to bring in elements of humor and drama in what Violence Prevention Coordinator Kacie Otto deems a page-turner.
Director of the Women’s Center Dr. Brenda Bethman selected Luckiest Girl Alive after reading it this summer.
“I liked that it was well-written and took on issues,” Bethman said, “but in a way that was interesting and enjoyable.”
Dr. Scott Curtis also appreciated the manner in which Knoll addressed issues as well as its relevance to all members of our society.
“I liked the discussion about the trauma, the emotional trauma,” Curtis said, “because that’s something—especially looking at the longer term thing as an adult male—I’m not as cognizant of, so this brought that to my attention. And then I like the description of rape culture because it did a good job of pointing out all of these things that exist in our culture, but did it in such a way that wasn’t saying ‘this cultural institution is bad’ [and] ‘all of this needs to change.’”
The Women’s Center and Miller Nichols Library have been collaborating on book discussions since 2010. They have one every fall and often every spring. Although not set in stone, students can look forward to a spring discussion of The Good Lieutenant by Assistant Professor Whitney Terrell.