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Bright Young Women

A Novel


About The Book

Don’t miss this “breakneck thriller” examining “our culture’s obsession with serial killers and true crime” (Harper’s Bazaar) following two women on the pursuit of justice against all odds. “A fascinating look at true crime and tabloid culture that's as thoughtful as it is gripping” (People).

A New York Times Notable Book of 2023
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Instant New York Times Bestseller
A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist
Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Kirkus Reviews, CrimeReads, Booklist, and more!

An Edgar Award Finalist for Best Novel

Masterfully blending elements of psychological suspense and true crime, Jessica Knoll—author of the bestselling novel Luckiest Girl Alive and the writer behind the Netflix adaption starring Mila Kunis—delivers a new and exhilarating thriller in Bright Young Women. The book opens on a Saturday night in 1978, hours before a soon-to-be-infamous murderer descends upon a Florida sorority house with deadly results. The lives of those who survive, including sorority president and key witness, Pamela Schumacher, are forever changed. Across the country, Tina Cannon is convinced her missing friend was targeted by the man papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer—and that he’s struck again. Determined to find justice, the two join forces as their search for answers leads to a final, shocking confrontation.

Blisteringly paced, 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” (Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me); and “a compelling, almost hypnotic read and I loved it with a passion” (Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling author of None of This Is True).

Reading Group Guide


1. Do you consider yourself a fan of true crime? Why or why not? If yes, what kinds of content do you consume and what about it draws your interest? Do you share this interest with anyone else in your life?

2. The characters refer to the killer exclusively as “The Defendant” throughout the whole story, never once giving him a real name. Why do you think Jessica Knoll chose to do this? How did it impact your understanding of the novel?

3. Consider the ways in which the media and newspapers play a role throughout the novel. What kind of power do journalists or headlines have? Have you seen similar examples from this time period or from modern day? Discuss where you find news or opinions. Have you ever considered what kind of partialities are embedded in the media you consume?

4. Pamela hoped she would be “remembered as a fair and impartial leader.” How would you describe Pamela as a leader? Have you ever found yourself acting as a leader amid an extreme situation? How did it make you feel? Can you imagine how you or someone you admire would react to being in Pamela’s position?

5. Consider how gender is involved in Pamela’s recollections of being labeled “a handful.” What about Pamela’s actions or personality might lead to this kind of description? Have you ever experienced being labeled based on an assumption or expectation related to your identity?

6. Think about what Mrs. McCall tells Pamela regarding black swan events: “A highly improbable event but also one that, upon closer examination, was predictable. . . . The point is that nothing can be predicted, really, and so you want to be sure to expose yourself to luck too. Things can go catastrophically wrong, but they can also go so right as to be profoundly transformative.” Do you think this was helpful advice for Pamela in the moment? What would you consider black swan events, both personally and on a larger scale?

7. Ruth seems to struggle with the memory of her father, thinking, “My father, whom I loved more than anything in this world, had made me very angry right before he died.” What kind of tension did Ruth have with her father, and with her parents? Have you experienced a combination of love and frustration with a family member or parent? How did you come to terms with the situation?

8. Pamela notes The Defendant’s crimes were, in part, a result of “a series of national ineptitudes and a parsimonious attitude toward crimes against women” and law enforcement that “would rather we remember a dull man as brilliant than take a good hard look at the role they played.” Do you agree with this position? Does this perspective make you consider notorious criminals in a new light?

9. At the Aspen convention, Tina tells Ruth that men will never accept a woman as “one of them,” even when they’re clearly occupying space as equals. Have you ever felt a lack of acceptance in a space you knew you were qualified to occupy? Who or what made you feel that way?

10. Pamela describes being thankful for her mother telling her the story of her first trip to Florida, as the painful truth “shouldn’t feel like a gift when you get it, but it is.” Have you ever experienced a difficult truth as a gift?

11. Tina shares her mixed feelings about others commenting on her grief, especially the external representation of it, such as losing weight and not wearing makeup. Is there a ‘right’ way to grieve? What other markers do you think of as part of the grieving process, and what about them stand out to you? Have you ever felt a responsibility to portray grief or pain in a specific manner so others might better appreciate your experience?

12. Consider the lesson Ruth remembers from her father’s story about the lonely man at the bar, concluding that “other people’s pain mattered more than my own discomfort.” How does this statement make you feel? How does this lesson play out in other areas of Ruth’s life? Are there other characters in the novel who seem to embody this perspective?

13. In Ruth’s first visit to the therapy group, Frances asks the women about their support systems, saying “a good support system included people who were willing to listen to you and who would not judge you for anything you were feeling, even if your feelings were provocative.” Who or what is a part of your own support system? Where do you see examples of support or a lack thereof in other areas of the book?

14. Bright Young Women is fiction, but it was inspired by true crimes against women. Have you read any other novels that are inspired by historical events or incorporate historical events? How does Jessica Knoll take well-known events and recast them in a new light?

15. Do you agree with Pamela’s characterization of The Defendant as “an ordinary misogynist”? What role does misogyny play in the characters’ lives? Does misogyny only impact women?

16. In speaking to a patient, Tina says, “Anger in women is treated as a character disorder, as a problem to be solved, when oftentimes it is entirely appropriate, given the circumstances that trigger it.” What do you think about the patient’s response that she “[doesn’t] want to be seen as an angry woman”? Do you see anger as a healthy emotion? In what circumstances is anger an appropriate response?


“The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law that, in part, provides housing protections for people applying for or living in units subsidized by the federal government and who have experienced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, to help keep them safe and reduce their likelihood of experiencing homelessness” ( Knowing your rights is incredibly important. Research VAWA, its history, what provisions are named, who does the work to provide resources, and what women are entitled to under this act.

Many women who are victims of violent and/or sexual crimes wish to take legal action against their assailant but end up not being able to pursue this type of justice as a result of the cost. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) provides victim services to an average of 800+ people every day, including legal aid, policy improvement, and the facilitation of medical equipment. Consider getting involved by visiting and exploring their list of options.

Cooking is one of Ruth’s passions, one she shared with her father before he passed away. Look up a recipe and try making one of the dishes Ruth has in the book, such as pignoli cookies or barbecued meatballs. Do you have any cooking lessons that you keep in mind, such as Ruth’s father’s advice to always finish a dish with something green?

Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, also explores violence (societal and physical) against women and the public interpretation of events. Ask if anyone in the group has read Luckiest Girl Alive, and what parallels or differences there are between the two novels. Consider hosting a viewing of the 2022 film adaption (written and executive produced by Jessica Knoll!) of Luckiest Girl Alive starring Mila Kunis. How do the characters compare with those in Bright Young Women? If you were to cast an onscreen version of Bright Young Women, which actors would you choose to play which roles?

About The Author

Sabrina Lantos

Jessica Knoll is the New York Times bestselling author of The Favorite Sister and Luckiest Girl Alive—now a major motion picture from Netflix starring Mila Kunis. She has been a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and the articles editor at Self. She grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and graduated from the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their bulldog, Franklin.

Product Details

  • Publisher: S&S/Marysue Rucci Books (September 19, 2023)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501153242

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Raves and Reviews

"[A] blistering novel rife with pulse-pounding tension." —Booklist, "Top 10 Mysteries and Thrillers: 2024"

"[A] fascinating look at true crime and tabloid culture that's as thoughtful as it is gripping.” PEOPLE Magazine, "Our Favorite Books by and About Powerful Women"

"Bright Young Women doesn’t put its focus on the murderer. It’s more interested in his victims—and the survivors who are on a mission to catch him before he kills again.”
TIME Magazine, "Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2023"

"Though fictionalized, this is a much needed, deeply researched historical corrective to the strangely romanticized takes on Bundy we’ve consumed over several decades. Based on newspaper records and other documentary evidence, the beauty, vibrance, and stolen potential of the women who died, and those who survived the Tallahassee attacks, are vividly rendered." —Boston Globe, Best Social Thrillers of 2023

“After her success with books such as “Luckiest Girl Alive” (now a movie starring Mila Kunis) and “The Favorite Sister,” Jessica Knoll turns to history in her latest novel, specifically Ted Bundy. “Bright Young Women” opens with a powerful — and gory — scene evoking Bundy’s killing spree at a sorority house in the late 70s, which left two young women dead, and another two maimed. Rather than sensationalize violence against women, however, Knoll’s provocative novel focuses on the stories of those affected by the killer’s rampages.” The Washington Post, The 12 Best Thrillers of 2023

“On one level, Bright Young Women is a breakneck thriller based on Ted Bundy's heinous crimes. It ties together the stories of two women with connections to the murders and their search for justice. On another, it functions as a sharp examination of our culture's obsession with serial killers and true crime.” —Harper's Bazaar, The 45 Best New Books of 2023 You Won’t Put Down

"[P]art historical fiction – an old story told from a refreshingly new perspective – and part mystery. There are multiple voices and multiple time periods, but it all gets woven together with a great payoff at the end. Read it for the great characters, lots of plot and enough unanswered questions that you’ll have trouble putting it down.” —Elissa Nadworny, NPR "Books We Love"

Inspired by the real-life case of the “All-American Sex Killer,” the new novel from Jessica Knoll aims to flip the usual serial killer story upside down. Knoll’s book focuses on the women involved—victims, survivors, and investigators—and turns a bright light on the banality of evil."
--Goodreads, 55 Most Anticipated Books of Fall

"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."
CrimeReads/LitHub, Most Anticipated Books of 2023

"Bright Young Women braids the stories of two survivors, Pamela and Tina, and their fervent bond forged through grief and a pursuit of justice."
—Bustle, The 35 Best New Books of Fall 2023

“Something about fall weather begs for a thriller, and Jessica Knoll delivers with her latest.”
—Country Living

“A stunning, engaging subversion of the Bundy myth—and the true-crime genre.”
—Kirkus (Starred Review), Best Fiction Books of the Year

“Stunning… 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.”
—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

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

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

"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."
—Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling Author of Then She Was Gone

"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."
–Laura Dave, New York Times Bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me

"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."
—Flynn Berry, New York Times bestselling author of Northern Spy and Under the Harrow

Praise for Luckiest Girl Alive!

"[A] huge summer read . . . one of those great stories that you can’t put down!”—Reese Witherspoon, InStyle

“The perfect page-turner to start your summer.”People (Book of the Week)

“Dark, twisty . . . razor-sharp writing . . . propulsive prose . . . [The] reveal is a real doozy—a legitimately shocking, completely unputdownable sequence that unfolds like a slow-motion horror film. It instantly elevates Luckiest Girl . . . and that momentum keeps going until its final pages.”Entertainment Weekly

“Loved Gone Girl? We promise [Luckiest Girl Alive is] just as addictive.”Good Housekeeping

“A pulse-pounding, jaw-dropping novel about how tragedy twists and shapes lives.”InTouch (A-)

“When Ani FaNelli wants something, she gets it: the job, the body, the man. What starts as a Mean Girls-seeming story line transforms into something so dark, so plot-twistingly intense that…well, actually, no spoilers here.” Marie Claire

“A knockout debut novel . . . completely enthralling . . . devilishly dark and fun.”Publishers Weekly

“[Ani FaNelli is] a cross between Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw and Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne. . . . Knoll’s debut truly delivers and will keep readers engaged until the end.”Library Journal

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