cover image When We Were Bright and Beautiful

When We Were Bright and Beautiful

Jillian Medoff. Harper, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-314202-2

In Medoff’s emotional latest (after This Could Hurt), a young woman and her adoptive family contend with her younger brother’s trial for sexual assault. Cassie Forrester-Quinn, 23, returns home to Manhattan from her graduate studies at Yale after Billy, a junior at Princeton, is arrested following accusations from his girlfriend, Diana. Cassie’s older brother Nate bemoans how Billy will be skewered in the media as the “whole trifecta: rich, white, Ivy League athlete,” despite his complicated, rocky history with Diana, whom Cassie sees as “manipulative and vindictive.” As trial preparations begin, their mother, Eleanor, refuses to allow Billy to accept a plea deal, while their father, Lawrence, favors the plan in order to protect family secrets. Meanwhile, when a detective interviews Cassie, she mentions a sexual relationship she had with an older married man named Marcus when she was a teen. She’s always believed the relationship was consensual, but now she begins processing how it’s affected her life. Still, Cassie continues to support Billy, believing “women’s feelings eclipse men’s civil rights.” Some of the twists end up feeling contrived after the revelations emerge, such as the full picture of Cassie and Marcus’s connection, but Medoff does a good job developing Cassie’s complicated feelings, and leaves readers reflecting on the family’s intergenerational abuse of power. By the end, this is both satisfying and heartbreaking. (Aug.)