When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff
8/2/22; 336 pages
When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff is a highly recommended novel that is part domestic thriller and part courtroom drama.
The Quinn family is a uber-wealthy family living in Manhattan. Parents, Lawrence and Eleanor have two sons, Nate and Billy, and an unofficially adopted daughter, Cassie. When Billy Quinn is arrested for a sexually assaulting his girlfriend, Cassie and Nate both go home to support Billy and their parents. The Quins can afford the best attorney money can buy, but Billy's profile, a white, athletic, and privileged male will immediately prejudice the media and potentially a jury against him. Cassie wonders why Billy’s ex-girlfriend Diana would be so vindictive that she make these accusations against him.
The Quinns have secrets that they need to keep that way, but they all ban together to unflinchingly support Billy. As Cassie narrates the story, we learn about the preparations for Billy's defense but it is also revealed that Cassie had a sexual relationship as a teen with an older married man named Marcus. She claims the relationship was consensual, but that is in question as she now ponders how it’s affected her life.
Readers are presented a challenge immediately at the start of When We Were Bright and Beautiful.
For many of us it is a challenge to love wealthy, entitled,
condescending, obnoxious characters from NYC who always believe they can
change things to suit them and whine when things don't go their way. And this family is very, very dysfunctional.
Additionally, Cassie, who is the narrator, seems like an unreliable
narrator. You will know that you probably aren't getting a complete
picture of reality.
There is a lot of information that needs to be shared but Cassie, as
mentioned, isn't reliable or succinctly sharing facts, so the
information seems to trickle out. It felt slow moving at the beginning for me.
But then, after the half way point, everything flips upside down and
sideways, bringing more clarity to Cassie's unsteadiness and what I felt
was odd behavior at times. The courtroom scenes reveal more than facts about Billy's case.
There is foreshadowed by Cassie slowly revealing information leading up to the trial which also changes your perception of her. It is at this point that you will recall previous hints at the dark secrets and what was happening in this family. The ending is volatile as the breadth of the deeply hidden and shocking secrets and trauma is exposed. This is a heartbreaking novel.Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.