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When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff

Contemporary fiction

When We Were Bright and Beautiful

by Jillian Medoff

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Quick Take

In this gripping story set in the shadows of New York’s elite, one family begins to unravel in the wake of scandal.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Family_Drama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Legal_Thriller

    Legal thriller

  • Illustrated icon, Unsetteling

    Unsettling

  • Illustrated icon, NYC

    NYC

Synopsis

You can have everything, and still not have enough.

Cassie Quinn may only be twenty-three, but she knows a few things. One: money can’t buy happiness, but it’s certainly better to have it. Two: family matters most. Three: her younger brother Billy is not a rapist.

When Billy, a junior at Princeton, is arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Cassie races home to Manhattan to join forces with her big brother Nate and their parents, Lawrence and Eleanor. The Quinns scramble to hire the best legal minds money can buy, but Billy fits the all-too-familiar sex-offender profile—white, athletic, and privileged—that makes headlines and sways juries.

Meanwhile, Cassie struggles to understand why Billy’s ex Diana would go this far, even if the breakup was painful. And she knows how the end of first love can destroy someone: Her own years-long affair with a powerful, charismatic man left her shattered, and she’s only recently regained her footing.

As reporters converge outside their Upper East Side landmark building, the Quinns gird themselves for a media-saturated trial, and Cassie vows she’ll do whatever it takes to save Billy. But what if that means exposing her own darkest secrets to the world?

Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assualt and child abuse.

Why I love it

One of a novelist’s most difficult—and rarest—achievements is to write a book so richly layered it spans multiple genres. When We Were Bright and Beautiful, the fifth novel by the uber-talented Jillian Medoff is just that.

Is it a family saga? A courtroom drama? A domestic thriller with a gasp-inducing twist that will make you question everything you just read? Yes, yes, and yes.

The novel is structured around the criminal trial of Billy Quinn, a star athlete at Princeton accused of rape by an ex-girlfriend. But the story really belongs to Cassie, Billy’s older sister, who serves as narrator. Twenty-three years old and whip-smart, Cassie rushes to join her family in defending her brother. She controls this story, telling us only what she wants us to know, from the details of the investigation to the courtroom theatrics that grab the public’s attention, to the darker side of the Quinn’s glittering and glamorous life on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But Cassie is hiding a secret of her own—for years she’s been involved with a married older man. The revelation not only increases the stakes, but it’s where the book’s cumulative power and purpose reside.

When We Were Bright and Beautiful is a masterful novel—it features the kind of propulsive storytelling that will rope you into reading it in one day. But more than that, it is also an important and daring book that will spark many lively and vital discussions about consent, wealth, power, privilege, and our preconceived ideas about how women’s stories should be told.

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Contemporary fiction
View all
The Last Love Note
Anita de Monte Laughs Last
The Leftover Woman
Interesting Facts about Space
Bye, Baby
Swan Song
How to Read a Book
The Connellys of County Down
Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life
A Summer Affair
Adelaide
The Collected Regrets of Clover
Evil Eye
Maame
Advika and the Hollywood Wives
Once There Were Wolves
We Are the Brennans
Olga Dies Dreaming
If Only I Could Tell You
How Lucky
My Dark Vanessa
Nine Perfect Strangers
Honey Girl
One Italian Summer
Eight Hundred Grapes
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes
The Five-Star Weekend
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
The Nest
Rich and Pretty
Britt-Marie Was Here
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Startup
The Identicals
The Dinner List
Goodbye, Paris
Winter in Paradise
A Woman Is No Man
Queenie
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Beyond the Point
What Happens in Paradise
Nothing to See Here
When We Were Vikings
Anxious People
A Good Neighborhood
Big Summer
The Last Story of Mina Lee
Troubles in Paradise
White Ivy
This Close to Okay
The Removed
The Kindest Lie
Good Company
Impostor Syndrome
The Other Black Girl
Apples Never Fall
A Quiet Life
We Are the Light
The Fortunes of Jaded Women
When We Were Bright and Beautiful
The Hotel Nantucket