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Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
Crime fiction

Bright Young Women

by Jessica Knoll

Quick take

In this piercing portrait of a bygone era, a vicious serial killer targeting young women strikes fear into a nation.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Real-life-characters

    Real-life characters


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.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Bright Young Women.

Why I love it

If you are a longtime Jessica Knoll fan like I am, you are in for an incredible treat with her latest novel—an unflinching and evocative story about tabloid fascination with evil and the remarkable women who dare to confront a misogynistic monster. With her characteristically fearless storytelling, Knoll weaves a potent tale of psychological suspense that takes on not only evil itself, but what it means to survive—and to get yourself to the other side.

What sets Bright Young Women apart is how Knoll flips the script on the crime genre. The first of two braided narratives begins in 1978 Florida with Pamela whose world is rocked one fateful night when a killer targets her sorority. On the other side of the country Tina Cannon has just resettled in Seattle and befriends a local named Ruth. Then one day at the beach Ruth goes missing with echoes of the Florida massacre, setting Tina and Pamela on a collision course. Instead of glorifying the criminal (or the harrowing nature of his crimes), Knoll shines a light on two women who face down the horrific damage he’s inflicted and find their way to justice. I loved these women and found myself rooting for them every step of their pulsating journeys.

This is crime fiction at its best, and my favorite Jessica Knoll novel yet. Don’t waste any time, add this gem to your box and kick your Fall reading off right.

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Member ratings (1,504)

  • Tracy V.

    New York , NY

    Knoll did an amazing job as per usual, but I’m left feeling angry, which I think was her intent. People need to stop glorifying T*d B*ndy. He was not smart or charismatic. Nor did he “lure”. Super sad

  • Patti D.

    Canton, MI

    Beautifully done. The focus is entirely on the victims and those who continue to fight for them rather than the killer.The timeline may be a little hard to follow but it works. I couldn’t put it down!

  • Lindsey T.

    Fort Wayne, IN

    I’ve never understood the obsession with serial killers and am disgusted by serial killer fandoms. This book is an important insertion into the genre and rightfully calls out those who idolize killers

  • Hayley S.

    Winfield, IL

    Really, really enjoyed this novel! I’ve always been interested in true crime and loved having the focus be on the women of such an over-told story. Was a fresh perspective that had me thinking deeply

  • Lauren F.

    Charlotte, NC

    What an incredible take on the entire genre of serial killer literature. Seeing the other side of those he victimized and the ones they left behind is far more powerful than the usual media portrayal.