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When We Were Bright and Beautiful

Review

When We Were Bright and Beautiful

In our media and politics, white privilege is real. In WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL, Cassie Quinn comes from a world where she could have anything she wants because of her family’s success. However, as she finds out, money does not buy everything, and safety is never an absolute.

Cassie’s brother, Billy, seems like the perfect guy --- a junior at Princeton, attractive, smart, athletic --- but he’s been accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Diana. Although they’ve had their issues, this is beyond what anyone could have expected. Billy says he didn’t do it. Will he be believed? Cassie has had her own experiences with difficult relationships and a man whose power she comes to fall prey to again and again. So is this a crime of passion? Is Diana crying wolf? Or is there so much more going on that will rise to the surface and destroy every protection they thought they had?

"WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL is a book for these endlessly turbulent times and a comet force of a story that will satisfy our lust for surprises and plot twists. The shadows unveiled will stay with us long after the remarkable conclusion."

Cassie is not the natural-born daughter of the Quinn family. Having lost her parents at a young age, she was taken in by the Quinns and into the lap of luxury. With two brothers and loving new parents, she has flourished and is now enjoying her undergraduate life at Yale. When the Billy problem rears its head, she comes home to be part of the family tragedy that --- as Billy moves through the justice system in Mercer County, New Jersey --- becomes sharply focused on formerly unseen realities. Cassie finds her love for her family and the world they inhabit running ragged as the sharp edges of reality push and prod the Quinns towards new realizations and to a breaking point.

Knowing that Cassie was not born with the traditional silver spoon, we are able to relax into a relationship with her. Her storytelling is presented with the utmost sincerity and honesty --- whether discussing Diana and past incidents involving her and the family, or Cassie’s own destructive first love. Jillian Medoff gives us a perfect protagonist; we can cheer her successes and gasp at her realizations as she makes them. The story twists and turns with Cassie’s understanding of what is really going on. We are inside her head so completely that the story flies by.

This fast-paced drama is a courtroom thriller that leads breathlessly from one revelation to another: “My body is on fire, every joint aches. I’m paralyzed. Unable to move, even to shift in my seat, I’m separated from my brothers…separated from myself. The more I detach, the easier this will get. Soon, I’ll be invisible too.” We truly can understand the full extent of how this terrifying bout of reality will change Cassie’s life, and ours, for having been allowed to be a part of it. The novel is a carefully etched portrait of the worst that can happen, even when all the sunniest expectations are built into a life’s plan.

Medoff’s simmering prose pulls us in for a contemporary story about a very old problem. When does the money mean nothing, and when must the privileged person face the music written by the powers of truth and someone else’s call for justice? As we watch such stories play out in the press every day, Cassie’s journey will prove that much more fascinating to today’s reader. WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL is a book for these endlessly turbulent times and a comet force of a story that will satisfy our lust for surprises and plot twists. The shadows unveiled will stay with us long after the remarkable conclusion.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on August 5, 2022

When We Were Bright and Beautiful
by Jillian Medoff

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0063142023
  • ISBN-13: 9780063142022