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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.

About The Readers

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (October 3, 2023)
  • Length: 11 disks
  • Runtime: 12 hours and 58 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797154770

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Raves and Reviews

"Led by Tony Award–winning actor Sutton Foster, a group of narrators (Imani Jade Powers, Corey Brill, and Chris Henry Coffey) share duties narrating the fictionalized story of two women whose lives intersect via their brush with serial killer Ted Bundy. Pamela, a Florida State sorority president, escapes his attack on her house, while Ruth, a troubled young woman in Washington state, may have been one of his victims...Foster is the star here, but the whole production underscores Knoll’s insistence that victims, not perpetrators, should be remembered."

– Connie Ogle, Kirkus Reviews

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