The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll

Short Take: Infuriating. Depressing. Delicious.


*Note: I received a free advance copy of this book for review purposes.*

I think there’s something wrong with me, at least by society’s standards. You see, I’ve never watched any of the reality shows that The Favorite Sister seems to be modeled on. I have never kept up with a single Kardashian, and I have no idea who any of the Real Housewives are, or why there’s a show about cooking, cleaning, and wiping toddlers off (that’s housewife stuff, right?). I’m not trying to be snobby, I think I’ve amply demonstrated (many, many times) just how lowbrow my tastes really are, but the “women being nasty to each other in front of cameras” thing has never interested me.

So it was with a kind of anthropological fascination that I began Jessica Knoll’s newest book, The Favorite Sister, which is centered around the five women who make up the cast of a reality show called Goal Diggers. Diggers is supposed to be the anti-trash show, featuring women who are smart, business savvy, hip, young, and successful. Its mission statement is full of grandiose feminist ideals, in which the women support each other’s endeavors and celebrate their own successes instead of downplaying them.

So far, so good, right?

The problem, it turns out, is that awesome strong women getting along makes for boring TV, and probably boring reading. Which is why The Favorite Sister is so freakin’ good, but at the same time, so deeply upsetting.

There are two levels to The Favorite Sister. The first is the plot itself, which is FANTASTIC. The sisters are Brett and Kelly Courtney. Kelly was always the favorite, the golden child who received endless love and attention from their mother, and went on to become a single teenage mother to Layla, who is now twelve. Brett, on the other hand, went her own way. She founded a chain of spin gyms that also benefited charity, and was the first one cast on Goal Diggers.

It’s a really brilliant dynamic. Which sister had it worse – the one who was so smothered by parental adoration and demands that she never really became a functional adult, or the one who felt unloved her whole life, but went on to do great things? Clearly, that kind of dysfunction can be reality show gold, so a few seasons in, the producers added Kelly and Layla to the show.

The book opens with Kelly being interviewed about Brett’s murder, which is, of course, the huge central mystery. But there’s really so much more to everything. There’s also Stephanie, who wrote a best-selling memoir, and Jen, the Vegan Guru, and Lauren, the heavily alcoholic founder of a hot dating site. Toss in a couple of producers who just want to blow up the ratings and get lots of on-air drama and are willing to pull some nasty tricks to that end, and you have a deliciously twisted soap opera that I could NOT. Stop. Reading.

There’s another level to The Favorite Sister, however, and that’s the message that it sends. For all the feminist rhetoric spouted by the various characters, these women are exactly what the more awful corners of Reddit claim that all women are: they are shallow, catty, materialistic, status-obsessed, fighting over men, hurting each other for attention, lying about abuse, and turning every interaction into a zero sum game. There’s not a single speck of loyalty, caring, or any genuine support for anyone else, ever, at all, by any of them. Any seemingly kind gesture is for the benefit of the cameras or career only.

It’s horrifying, but not in a good “disembodied head floating around the room and cursing everyone” kind of way. I’m left wondering if Ms. Knoll meant for Favorite Sister to be kind of a satire, but it just doesn’t read that way.

Overall though, I couldn’t put this book down, and read through it in a single night, and now it’s three days later and I’m still obsessing over it. So I would say, read it, enjoy it, and don’t internalize a word of it.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and carbs. Lots of carbs.)



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