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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, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LegalThriller

    Legal thriller

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unsettling


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Nyc



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?

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assualt and child abuse.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of When We Were Bright and Beautiful.
When We Were Bright and Beautiful


This is Billy’s story. But if I were the one telling it, I would start with Nate’s call. For me, that’s the pivot point between before and after; the moment I was, for lack of a better expression, jolted awake.

“Cassie? You there?” Nate, my older brother, is shouting into the phone. He’s back in New York, and he’s frantic. “Where have you been? I’ve been calling for hours.”

“I’m sorry. I was in the library. I shut off my—”

“Cassie, listen, okay? Something awful happened to Billy.”

Nate is talking so fast his sentences bleed together. I make out the word rape, but that can’t be right. Then he says it again.

“Billy was raped?” This can’t be true. Our younger brother isn’t just strong; he’s also scrappy as hell. “Is this a joke? If so, it’s not funny.”

“Come on, Cassandra. Billy wasn’t raped, he was arrested for rape.” His voice is tinged with antipathy. “I wish I were joking. The girl is out for blood. She . . .” Trailing off, he leaves me to twist.

At twenty-five, Nate is a typical big brother, as bossy as he is protective. I’m twenty-three, and Billy is twenty-two. Billy and I are Irish twins; we’ve been inseparable our whole lives.

“Who’s the girl, Nate?” I ask, though I fear I already know.

“Diana Holly.”

Oh, shit. My body stiffens like I’m girding for battle. If Diana Holly is involved, something is very wrong.

“Yes,” Nate agrees, though I’ve said nothing. “You’re right.”

Our family is partial to silence, but like many siblings, my brothers and I communicate telepathically. At the moment, for instance, Nate and I are tallying up all the ways Diana has hurt Billy before, and the signs that she’d one day go too far.

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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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Member ratings (21,112)

  • Kim L.

    Tampa, FL

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. So good. I’ve never debated my feelings towards characters as much as I did in this book. I didn’t see the Marcus/Lawrence twist coming. Still thinking about it hours later. Read it!!

  • Rebecca F.

    Decatur, GA

    It feels odd to choose “love” on a book that humanizes an accused rapist’s family. You also question the characters’ actions and whether you like what you’re reading. But I was intrigued throughout.

  • Stephanie B.

    APO, AE

    Very well written story about sexual assault and the people behind the words “victim” and “predator”. This book had me invested from the first chapter to the last. Loved the twists of the story. Bravo

  • Rachel R.

    Mandeville, LA

    This story was thrilling from beginning to end. I’ve already ordered all of Jillian’s other novels. She’s a great storyteller and keeps you enthralled through the entire book. I couldn’t put it down!

  • Katie P.

    Council Bluffs, IA

    This book was not at all what I expected but it was so captivating. It’s refreshing to read a book in where the narrator realizes maybe they (and loved ones) are not always as good as they seem. 5 ⭐️!

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