Thursday, October 5, 2023

Book Review: Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: September 19, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Luckiest Girl Alive
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."


Pamela Schumacker was the president of her sorority at Florida State in 1978. Instead of partying all night long like her peers, she can often be found doing paperwork or taking care of things for the sorority. On one fateful January night, she hears strange footsteps in the house that alert her, and from the shadows, she sees a man fleeing for the front door. At first, she assumes it's one of the sorority sister's on-again-off-again boyfriends, but after further inspection, she realizes that she doesn't know this man. Turns out multiple violent crimes were committed by a notorious serial killer that night and Pam is the only eyewitness. The story's timeline follows Pam's experience after the heinous crime at Florida State as well as thirty years later when she receives a mysterious letter that brings her to Tallahassee. The narrative also jumps to 1974 and focuses on Ruth Wachowsky, who they believe may have been one of the killer's first victims. The novel dances around the serial killer's actual name, which is never directly stated, but readers can imply it's none other than Ted Bundy. Jessica Knoll takes away his power by not directly addressing him and gives it back to his women in Bright Young Women, a fresh take on true crime as well as a thrilling tale that flips the script.


The story starts with a bang at Florida State through the eyes of Pam. It was terrifying, to be honest, and not something I was comfortable reading at night. However, the story continues after that and while it is an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it isn't as horrifying as the opening. Pam's search for justice is what really drove the story and I applaud Knoll for focusing on the women as often they get overshadowed by the killer. I also did not know much about Bundy's crimes, other than a few basic facts, so this was eye-opening for sure.


Ted Bundy, in particular, has been glorified over the years as a charming, smart, mastermind behind a ton of violent murders. It's a gross characterization and I like how Knoll knocked him off his pedestal and gave the power back to the women. So many movies and novels have focused on Bundy as being some superstar killer and I prefer how Bright Young Women depicted it. As a society, we should be focusing on the victims anyway! I also enjoyed the feminist take in Bright Young Women, but be forewarned that there were a lot of injustices and sexist behavior that the women had to deal with. It was infuriating!


While I liked Luckiest Girl Alive a bit more, Bright Young Women was just as captivating and more terrifying in that it's based on real-life events. So, if you can't stomach a story like this, I get it, but perhaps think about giving it a chance, because the story does give the women a chance to turn the tables. Needless to say, this would be an excellent thriller to read in October. In the comments below, let me know if you are going to read Bright Young Women and if you are a fan of Jessica Knoll. 




  1. Captivating sounds like a great word to describe this book - you really have me intrigued!

    1. It really was! The subject matter was tough at times, but such a good book! Thanks for dropping by.


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