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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

When we Were Bright and Beautiful

ISBN: ‎ 978-0063142022

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: 08/02/2022

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Marin Ireland

My Rating: 5 Stars

“When We Were Bright and Beautiful blew me away. Jillian Medoff’s gripping exploration of wealth, consent, and complicity tells the story of a loving family’s unraveling with the propulsive pace of the best thrillers. A masterful achievement.”—Aimee Molloy, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Mother and Goodnight Beautiful

The acclaimed, bestselling author of This Could Hurt returns with her biggest, boldest novel yet—an electrifying, twisty, and deeply emotional family drama, set on Manhattan’s glittering Upper East Side, that explores the dark side of love, the limits of loyalty, and the high cost of truth.

You can have everything, and still not have enough.

Cassie Quinn may only be twenty-three, but she knows a few things. One: money can’t buy happiness, but it’s certainly better to have it. Two: family matters most. Three: her younger brother Billy is not a rapist.

When Billy, a junior at Princeton, is arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Cassie races home to Manhattan to join forces with her big brother Nate and their parents, Lawrence and Eleanor. The Quinns scramble to hire the best legal minds money can buy, but Billy fits the all-too-familiar sex-offender profile—white, athletic, and privileged—that makes headlines and sways juries.

Meanwhile, Cassie struggles to understand why Billy’s ex Diana would go this far, even if the breakup was painful. And she knows how the end of first love can destroy someone: Her own years-long affair with a powerful, charismatic man left her shattered, and she’s only recently regained her footing.

As reporters converge outside their Upper East Side landmark building, the Quinns gird themselves for a media-saturated trial, and Cassie vows she’ll do whatever it takes to save Billy. But what if that means exposing her own darkest secrets to the world?

Lightning-paced and psychologically astute as it rockets toward an explosive ending, When We Were Bright and Beautiful is a dazzling novel that asks: who will pay the price when the truth is revealed?

My Review


WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL is masterfully written by author Jillian Medoff and utterly spellbinding. Complex, multi-layered, compelling, riveting, and heartbreaking— the novel grips you and never lets go. You will be turning the pages frantically into the wee hours of the morning. One of my top books of 2022.

This one is for you if you enjoy well-written twisty legal courtroom thrillers with emotional and complex dysfunctional families with dark secrets. Part courtroom drama/part domestic suspense thriller.

Meet the Quinn family, Lawrence and Eleanor, with two sons and a daughter. Billy has just been accused of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Diana. Lawrence, the patriarch, runs a charitable nonprofit; his wife, Eleanor, is an old-money socialite.

Billy is a junior at Yale (pre-med), but this severe allegation which will become a criminal case, could jeopardize his future, and the family is worried about the shame and outcome.

Billy, unfortunately, fits the all-too-familiar sex-offender profile, white, athletic, and privileged, that makes headlines and sways juries. He also is shutting down. He suffers emotionally from years of bullying due to his stuttering, so his family does not hesitate to show their support.

Cassie Forrester-Quinn, age 23, their adopted daughter, rushes home to Manhattan to support her brother Billy and joins forces with older brother (age 25) Nate. Cassie is at Yale working on her PhD.

The Quinns are uber ultra-wealthy in NYC and have it all. Class, privilege, money, status. But are they the perfect family? Underneath the surface, there are fissures, and they go deep. They hire hire the highest profile best legal representation money can buy.

Told in the first person from Cassie's POV, she is also an unreliable narrator. Something is off with her, and you sense a dark shadow below the surface. Her parents died when she was young the Quinns adopted her. There is much more to her story and dark secrets that will unfold. You know something sinister is coming. She pulls back layer after layer of secrets and manipulations.

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.

As trial preparations begin, their mother, Eleanor, refuses to allow Billy to accept a plea deal, while their father, Lawrence, favors the plan to protect family secrets.

After the halfway point, everything flips upside down, and your head will spin —RIVETING! From this powerful, privileged, wealthy family, there are hidden and shocking secrets, and the trauma is exposed, which is heartbreaking. Everyone is guilty of something. What is the price of truth and secrets? Who is the villain?

Nothing is black or white, and many gray areas. An intriguing deep dive into the dark side of family, its limits, loyalty, the ripple effects of trauma, and the cost of secrets and truth. Cassie’s character is masterfully developed.

Psychologically rich—an outstanding, electrifying, twisty, profoundly emotional family drama and legal thriller. The courtroom scenes were exceptional, and the ending was brilliant! In awe of this author's talent.

An ideal pick for book clubs and further discussions. There is much to discuss! For fans of authors John Lescroart and Aime Austin.

My first book by the author, and not sure why this author has not been on the radar, but after this, that is about to change immediately! My favorite genre is legal thrillers, so you can guess I absolutely devoured this one and cannot wait to read this author's backlist and anxiously await her next!

I read the e-book and listened to the audiobook narrated by Marin Ireland. A superb performance and engaging listening experience.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 5 STARS ✨✨✨✨✨


BUZZ BOOK 2022: Highlight Anticipated


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NOVEL SUSPECTS: Legal Thrillers to Read Now

“If you’re looking for story that takes on elements of the #MeToo movement, Jillian Medoff’s When We Were Bright and Beautiful is two parts Gone Girl, two parts Notes on a Scandal, and will play with your expectations about who’s the villain and who’s the victim.”

— Jennifer Weiner, USA Today

“A gifted novelist turns to an explosive topic—sexual assault—and the disquieting stories that leap to life from our darkest corners…Medoff writes with a soothsayer’s eye and a taut, alluring prose which winds inexorably to courtroom revelations and a shocking, shattering climax.”

— Hamilton Cain, Oprah Daily

“You are going to be thrilled with When We Were Bright and Beautiful. This novel begs to be a book club selection because you are going to need to discuss these characters, the choices they make and the trouble we can get into making assumptions about what we think we know about the world of wealth and privilege.”

— The Ethel, "Best Summer Books for your Balcony or Vacation"

"Like a magician pulling scarves from a sleeve. . . . Medoff’s greatest feat in this novel is not the twisty plotting but rather Cassie’s evolving relationship with the reader, with storytelling itself, as she moves from suspiciously naïve to clearly unreliable. . . . A layered and compelling peek into the darkest consequences of privilege."

— Kirkus Reviews

"Both satisfying and heartbreaking." Publishers Weekly

“Jillian Medoff's latest novel is an intricately crafted page turner with characters so flawed and fascinating, there's absolutely no looking away from them. Smart, challenging, and deeply unsettling, WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL will test your assumptions about guilt and innocence, and subvert your expectations until the very end.”

— Jung Yun, author of Shelter and O Beautiful

“When We Were Bright and Beautiful blew me away. Jillian Medoff’s gripping exploration of wealth, consent, and complicity tells the story of a loving family’s unraveling with the propulsive pace of the best thrillers. A masterful achievement.”

— Aimee Molloy, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Mother and Goodnight Beautiful

"When We Were Bright and Beautiful is a beautifully written and expertly paced examination of a privileged defendant and his family in the wake of a sexual assault allegation. Narrated by the defendant's sister Cassie, whose sharp voice is equal parts incisive and naive, the story covers much ground in American rape culture. Jillian Medoff's latest offers plenty for discussion and is perfect for book clubs."

— Caitlin Wahrer, author of The Damage

"This transfixing slow burn of a novel kept me up hours past my bedtime, bewitched by Medoff's ingenious storytelling, gorgeous prose, and complicated, fascinating characters. I loved it."

— Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year and A Fortunate Age

“I read When We Were Bright And Beautiful in a few big gulps; deftly and beautifully written, it’s a fantastic page-turner with a shocking twist.”

— Kate Christensen, award-winning author of The Last Cruise and The Great Man

“Jillian Medoff has written a hell of a book, one bound to captivate readers and ignite conversations.”

— Grant Ginder, author of Let’s Not Do That Again and The People We Hate at the Wedding

“This is Jillian Medoff’s best—deepest, wisest, most complex—work. Medoff dares to touch third rails in this novel, and doesn’t flinch when the sparks fly.”

— Darin Strauss, award-winning author of The Queen of Tuesday

About the Author

Jillian Medoff is the author of four acclaimed novels: THIS COULD HURT, I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE, GOOD GIRLS GONE BAD, and HUNGER POINT. HUNGER POINT was made into an original cable movie starring Christina Hendricks and Barbara Hershey and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (Lifetime TV, 2003).

A former fellow at MacDowell, Blue Mountain Center, VCCA and Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, Jillian has an MFA from NYU. She studied with Mona Simpson (her thesis advisor) and Jonathan Dee; and took master classes with Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, and Joyce Carol Oates. Jillian’s MFA experience was life-changing. She sold her graduate thesis, originally titled THE HUNTERS, to HarperCollins where it was retitled HUNGER POINT and published as her debut novel in 1997. Back then, readers loved the deeply depressed Frannie; now, they hate her and her whole stupid, self-absorbed family. Times change, culture evolves, and still, trauma endures.

Speaking of fierce young women, Jillian’s new novel, WHEN WE WERE BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL, is a story about power, privilege, consent, and dirty, sexy money. It’s coming from Harper/HarperCollins in August 2022.

In addition to writing novels, Jillian has a long career in corporate consulting. Since her early days at Max Factor and American Home Goods (in Trump Tower!), she’s worked for a wide range of employers, including Deloitte and Aon. Now with Segal Benz, she advises clients on communication strategies for all aspects of the employee experience.

Jillian lives with her husband, Keith Dawson and three adult daughters, who come and go. She reviews fiction for the New York Times Book Review, and is currently working on a new novel, THE COMMITTEE, a story about medical ethics and race in Seattle, circa 1961. WEBSITE







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