When the book begins, TifAni FaNelli, as the stylish, 28 year old, soon to be, Ani Harrison, is a typical Bridezilla. Unfortunately, the foul language she used in so much of her dialogue almost had me giving up and never discovering the underlying themes of the book. A friend I respect had recommended it, so I decided to continue reading. With its unusual twists and turns, it turned into an interesting read about the experiences of a young girl from a troubled background. Her character is explored under a microscope. The people she lives with, the people who befriend and love her, as well as her antagonists, and those in authority in both the school and law enforcement system, are laid bare as well, over a period of 14 years.
For Ani Harrison, the future looks to be very bright. Her coming nuptials, to a man from the upper crust of society will accomplish her main goal in life. She looks the part of a well bred woman, and she plays it well. For 14 year old TifAni FaNelli, the future did not look as bright. She was from a modest background, living in a working class neighborhood, trying desperately to fit in with those in a higher social class. She appeared to be a kid that was easy to make the scapegoat, and her desire to be liked pushed her into making many foolish choices which eventually caused her, rightly or wrongly, to be expelled from her Catholic School. Serendipitously, she was then accepted into a prestigious upper class private school, where she continued bending the rules.
As a teen with a desire to fit in, she would lie to her folks, friends and teachers, and sneak out to accommodate the wishes of those friends whose company she desired. She was prone to eating binges, and seemed to be passive aggressive, at times, with bizarre excessive swings of mood. She also possessed a desire and ability to brutally humiliate others, all the while justifying her behavior to herself with one or another excuse she believed. She did not seem to be a very nice young girl. When tragedy struck her new school, her life changed direction once again. Throughout her teen years and then into her twenties, she remained haunted by the memories of the events that eventually led up to the disastrous incident at The Bradley School.
TifAni became Ani and continued to define her life in material and sexual terms, always trying to climb up the social ladder. She was a quick study. She learned just how to behave and dress from those who were living in the social strata to which she aspired. She was very aware and obsessive about her own beauty and weight, seesawing on diets through the years and panicking about her advancing age. She harshly judged all of the people she met with a cold, cruel eye, ridiculing their physical attributes and even their speech patterns. She had accomplished her goal of remaking herself and fitting into a world into which she was not born. Her upcoming wedding, to her boyfriend with magazine cover, good looks and a full bank account to go with it, was to be held on the island of Nantucket with all of the right accoutrements around her. She had a good job at a trendy magazine writing fairly raunchy articles about sex and relationships. She made nice money, dressed well, had the right job and the right future husband, but she was guided by self serving principles, not by ethics. She thought nothing of setting her sights on someone or something and she didn’t care how she got it or if anyone got hurt in the process, so long as in the end, she was the winner.
The story reveals itself by traveling back and forth in time, from her high school days to her present time. Slowly, as more and more of her background is disclosed, she does not become more likable, though she may morph into a more sympathetic figure, to some. I never liked her, even though I understood the reasons for her cynicism, anger and overly critical eye. She was one tough, young woman that I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw a horse. She liked to take chances and stretch the rules and she seemed to enjoy hurting others and to get off on the thought of being hurt herself. The violent incident at her chichi private school, eventually leads the story’s narrative. The ultimately, unpunished, criminal behavior TifAni experienced and the unfairness of the idea of her possible, but unproven, involvement in the school violence, continued to disturb her and influence her behavior.
After reading the book, I wondered how much revenge is enough, how much punishment is appropriate and are different types of punishment more appropriate for certain criminal behavior. Should the authorities not be more flexible before a final judgment is made on anyone’s behalf? I think many readers will wonder about the consequences of teenage behavior, the bullying and cliquing, parental guidance, the rules, regulations and punishments meted out, the value of friendship and loyalty, and finally the idea of retaliation, vengeance and ultimately, the meaning of justice. What makes someone do something heinous? Can the signs be recognized and the brutality prevented?
It is a good beach read, if you can get past the unpleasant vulgar vocabulary which has become more and more commonplace in what passes for literature today. The book will keep you engaged, wondering where the storyline is going, but the dialogue between the characters and the main character’s presentation will often be crude and intimidating in style. I do think the book could probably have been written without the smut. Instead of being, as I first thought, about how many dirty words could occur in a book, or how many girls wanted to have sex with the heartthrobs, or just how nasty someone could actually be, it was, underneath it all, about, materialism, immaturity, emotional instability, rape and the carnage it leaves in its wake, and the explosion of teenage angst and emotions that they cannot control or understand which often leads to catastrophic conclusions.
TifAni FaNelli was not a likable character. This is a window into a traumatic period of her life.