All We Ever Wanted
by Emily Giffin
Penguin Random House | Random House Books | Ballantine Books
Formats available: Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 6.26.18| 352 Pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
E-book was borrowed from the library through Overdrive. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton.
Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.
Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.
Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenaged girl, happy and thriving.
Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.
At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.
This is probably a book I might never have read because of the content and my wussy aversion to heartbreaking stories. I am so glad that it was chosen as a monthly read for our group and I felt motivated to give it a try. On a side note, I’ve been wanting to try this author’s books for a while.
All We Ever Wanted is the story surrounding one event. A shocking situation happens at a teen party and the repercussions become far reaching as some seek the truth, some cover the truth, and some resent having their little dreamworld rocked by any unpleasantness.
There are three narrators of the story: Nina, the mother of the teen guy who is implicated in a salacious photo of a nearly naked, passed out teen girl. Tom, the single dad trying so hard to raise a teenage daughter and give her all he can on his limited income. And, Lyla, the young girl whose poor choices land her the focus of it all as ‘the girl in the telling photograph’.
That incident polarizes a whole community and the reader is pulled into forming opinions because the author writes an engaging plot and characters that the reader is right there seeing and feeling it all.
The center of the story was about integrity vs. loyalty at its heart. Or, is acting with integrity actually showing the deepest form of loyalty (and love)? Nina, the mother of the teen guy, is placed in just such a heart-wrenching situation. Her married life was comfortable and she’s part of the country club set through her marriage and her husband’s new-found wealth through a business sale. She had the perfect life and perfect family- or so she thought. She didn’t come from wealth and privilege which causes her to not be senseless to how her ‘husband’ and her ‘friends’ had elitist and materialistic attitudes that filtered down to their children.
The incident with her son jerks her out of complacency and makes her confront herself, confront her husband and son, and then start the painful and difficult road toward change and hope that it isn’t too late for her son. Her values that she suppressed when she married up come back full force and she makes the decision to sacrifice all she worked to have over the years.
While Nina is facing some hard facts, so does Tom. He hates that his daughter is taken advantage of and those who did it seem to be getting away with it because they come from money and privilege. He wants justice, but Lyla just wants it swept under the rug and business as usual.
This story had me angry and heartbroken in turn. I thought I might have to put it aside because it was really getting to me, but I’m glad I powered through and finished because… wow, that ending was worth the angst and feels for me. I liked how the author wrote the fall out. It was authentic, but not a total downer, either. That epilogue was triumphant.
So, the author’s writing and this story were well worth the high ratings I’ve seen. This might be tough on some readers particularly if they have kids this age or have a connection to this type of situation. Those who enjoy fiction, women’s fiction, and even a bit of domestic thriller should take a closer look.