"There's a lot of me in her." The true story behind Netflix's The Luckiest Girl Alive.

Content warning: This story deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

In May 2015, Jessica Knoll's debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive became an instant New York Times bestseller. 

The psychological thriller follows the story of 28-year-old Ani Fanelli, who seems to have the perfect life. She's a prominent writer at one of the biggest women's magazines in the country and is engaged to be married to a man who comes from a wealthy New York family. 

When a documentary maker reaches out to Ani about a mass shooting that occurred at her high school when she was a student there, Ani travels back to her hometown to be interviewed. 

While there, Ani is forced to finally face the ghosts of her own past, including the brutal sexual assault she experienced when she was just 15 years old. 

Luckiest Girl Alive is a study of the impact of long term emotional trauma and touches on the themes of sexual assault, consent, bullying and school violence.

The book has since been adapted into a movie starring Mila Kunis, which premiered on Netflix on October 7. 

Watch the trailer for Netflix's Luckiest Girl Alive. Post continues below. 

Video via Netflix

In March 2016, Knoll penned an essay for Lena Dunham's now-defunct website Lenny Letter explaining the sexual assault described in the book, perpetrated by three popular boys in Ani's school year, was based on an experience from Knoll's own life. 


"The first person to tell me I was gang-raped was a therapist, seven years after the fact," Knoll began her essay. "The second was my literary agent, five years later, only she wasn’t talking about me. She was talking about Ani, the protagonist of my novel, which is a work of fiction. What I’ve kept to myself, up until today, is that its inspiration is not."

The author explained that before she was old enough to drive, she was invited to a party. At the party, she drank and flirted with a boy she had a crush on. She continued to drink and at some stage "slipped away from the waking world". 

She came to several times in the hours that followed as multiple boys assaulted her.

When she went to get the morning-after pill, she asked the doctor whether what happened to her was rape and the doctor told her she wasn't "qualified to answer that". 

Knoll's classmates called her a "sl*t". The only people who called it rape were two boys who left the party early and felt terrible guilt that they didn't stop it. 

It wasn't until she was 23, and in therapy, that someone finally acknowledged what happened to her. She was gang-raped at 15 years old. And then sl*t-shamed about it.

Jessica Knoll. Image: Getty


The parallels between Knoll's life and that of her protagonist, Ani, went further still.

They both grew up in the suburbs and attended tiny private schools where they were surrounded by kids from wealthy families who were determined to attend Ivy League colleges. They both felt like outsiders. 

In adulthood, both Knoll and Ani worked in women's magazines, with Ani becoming a writer at the fictional "The Women's Magazine" and Knoll being a former editor at Cosmopolitan. 

And they both struggled with disordered eating and body image, the seriousness of which Knoll has only truly come to appreciate more recently.

Speaking to Mamamia's No Filter podcast, Knoll said her own struggles seeped so deeply into the book that her editor asked her to pare back the litany of references to food and eating.


"I was full throes into an eating disorder when I was writing that book," she said.

"When you're starving yourself and restricting everything, and obsessed with working out twice a day and your weight and how your clothes fit and how you look, it's all you can think about. It's obsessive thoughts on a loop... I do think it was cathartic to write about it, but it was on my mind at all times.

"When I read passages from the book, I read the things [Ani] says about herself, like, she calls herself 'a piece of shit' constantly. I had really no value in myself as a human being.

"It's taken a lot of work to read that and look back and be like, 'Whoa, that was a person who was suffering.'"

Listen to Jessica Knoll's full conversation with Mia Freedman on No Filter. Post continues after.

Like her protagonist, Knoll became determined to build the perfect life for herself. She moved to New York City, became a magazine editor. She got a book deal. Became an international bestselling author. 

"I really subscribed to that adage 'living well is the best revenge'. And I think that was my north star for the better part of my adult life, until I [achieved success]. And then I was like, why do I still feel so crummy? Why doesn't this feel good? Why hasn't this healed me? 

"That's when I really started to do the work of building up my actual sense of self."

The release of the film on Netflix has brought new challenges, as the line between her and Ani blurs further.


"There is a lot of me in her," she told Mamamia, "and certain decisions that she's making in the film that break off from the book are based in real life choices and things that have happened in my life since the book has come out. 

"And so if someone would have a strong opinion about that, it can feel like, 'Oh my God, they're judging me and they're judging the choice that I made.'"

Therapy remains crucial to her ability to process the tangle of her trauma and success. She is learning who she is separate from it all; what she enjoys, what feels good to her, how to spend her weekends beyond burying herself in writing or grinding away at project after project.

"I think that when you figure out what that is, and you're not calling yourself 'a piece of shit' anymore, and you're not calling yourself fat and disgusting, you do have a sense of self that is real and feels like something that people can't take away from you," she said.

"You don't need revenge after that, because [with revenge] you're always looking to take back something they took from you. And now I have that; I have myself back. So I don't need revenge for anything."

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Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For her weekly TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and TikTok. 

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

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