Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Review by Bridget Keller

Serial killer, Ted Bundy, has become infamous and often romanticized by the press and many authors. The victims and those affected by him frequently are overlooked as just tallies to his kills and not seen as humans. The novel, Bright Young Women written by Jessica Knoll, tells a fictionalized story of those who were affected by the infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy. Not wanting to contribute to the glorification of the horrific serial killer of the 20th century, throughout her work she only refers to him as The Defendant. 

Knoll managed to jump between two characters in which the story was set at various times. One of which was Pamela Schumacher, a sorority student at Florida State University (FSU) where two young women were murdered and three left maimed. Her narration often jumps between the murders and trials, 1978 through 1979, and the present, 2021. President of the sororities house at FSU, she was the sole witness to a man leaving The House at a very late hour. She then found, that same night, a few of her colleagues and house sisters assaulted. The story progresses as she feels that the local police department is not doing its  job and not giving the women from FSU the justice that they deserve. She teams up with a woman from Washington, and they work together to prove the actual man that Pamela saw leave the house was indeed the man who could have committed the crimes. She faces trial as well as personal and public ridicule.

The other character that the story follows is Ruth Wachowsky, between 1974 through 1975. This fictitious character, from Issaquah, Washington, goes through the challenging loss of her father as well as a divorce back to back. Due to the tragedy and mixed emotions in the air, Ruth decides to become involved in a grief support group. She struggles with her feelings and her complicated relationship with her mother. She came into contact with Bundy a few years before the Florida killings and played a key role in the remainder of the story. 

I was initially skeptical when I began reading. I worried that Knoll would not be as informed as far as the events and how they affected the friends and families of the victims. Yet, the more I read and fact-checked through my research, I realized that she did indeed make sure to follow true! In many interviews, Knoll explains how she had met with multiple survivors of the Florida State University attack and was able to gather insight and reflective information from them. Granted that Knoll fictionalized a story that still resonates and is emotional to many alive today, she managed to move forward with the novel without any exploitation of the victims or their families.