All We Ever Wantedby Emily Giffin Published 26 Jun 2018
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In the riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of First Comes Love and Something Borrowed, three very different people must choose between their family and their values.
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.
"All We Ever Wanted" Reviews
"You should always side with your kid. Always."
"Without regard to his actions?" I asked. "No matter what?"
Here's two things I know for certain: 1) I would never condone abusive discriminatory behaviour, and 2) I would do everything within my power to protect my sons. So what happens if those two things directly contradict one another?
This book surprised me by how much it affected me. I actually felt deeply discomfited and sad while reading it. I've never read Emily Giffin and, to be honest, I probably wouldn't have if this hadn't popped up in the Goodreads Choice nominations and happened to be available at my local library. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that became something I couldn't put down.
Multiple perspectives are brought in as this story unfolds. One is Nina Browning, whose son Finch tears apart their cushy life when he posts a picture of a latina classmate passed out drunk and barely-dressed at a party, and then captions it with a racist joke. Nina's distress is palpable, and memories of her own traumatic past surface as she is forced to consider how her son became someone who would do this and if there's time to save him (and others) from himself.
I found it extremely compelling. On a plot level, I needed to know how things would work out. Nina becomes convinced Finch's father has fuelled this toxic behaviour and she starts to question her husband and their marriage, too. The story often seems headed in certain directions but surprises us by not giving into the usual cliches.
But it's more than just a compelling family drama. Maybe I felt this one so deeply because the scenario was horrifying-- what do you do when the person you love and care for more than anything seems to be hurting others? It's obviously not an easy question to answer, and Nina's reaction to it felt honest and sad.
All We Ever Wanted asks questions about privilege and entitlement, responsibility and blame. Despite the impression I got from the marketing, this is not a romance. At all. It hits so much harder than that twinkly blue cover would have you think.
CW: [spoilers removed]
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“All We Ever Wanted” was my first read from Emily Giffin and I loved it!
Life is good for the Browning family. Nina Browning’s husband Kirk sold his software company at the right time and they went from comfortable to very wealthy in a very short period of time. Nina doesn’t like to flaunt how wealthy they are, but her husband is a different story. Nina is trying to keep their eighteen-year-old son, Finch from becoming entitled though she admits they don’t say no to him often enough.
They just found out that Finch has been accepted to Princeton and the family is thrilled.
The book opens on a typical Saturday night…well typical for the Browning family. They are attending their fifth gala of the year. This gala is about suicide awareness and prevention and they are being honoured for their contributions.
Lately Nina has been feeling like something is off in her marriage. She wonders if it’s money coming between them or something else. As she listens to her husband giving a speech about the horrors of losing someone to suicide, Nina thinks about Finch and all of the opportunities he has ahead of him. Time has gone by so fast. He used to tell her everything and now she’s lucky if she gets a few words out of him. She really can’t believe that he will be off to college in the fall.
What Nina doesn’t know is that right at that moment their son is across town making the worst decision of his life.
Tom Volpe is a single father who works multiple jobs in order to support his daughter, Lyla. Tom is extremely proud of his daughter. She is very smart which is how she ended up at Windsor Academy. The school is intense academically as well as socially. But so far Lyla seems to have adjusted well. As she heads out Saturday evening, she promises her father that she won’t be out late – he tries not to worry. However, later that evening Tom senses that something is wrong with Lyla.
Sure enough, a few minutes later his phone rings…
The story is told from the perspectives of Nina, Tom, and Lyla which really helped the story flow nicely. I liked hearing from both parents as well as Lyla.
As parents, our first instinct is to protect our children from everything. But are there times where we can’t (and maybe shouldn’t) step in and fix everything? What is the difference between privilege and entitlement? It’s hard when your child makes a mistake….to know when to help them and when to step back. It can be so difficult to let our children suffer the consequences of their actions.
Emily Giffin sure knows how to tell an engrossing and entertaining story with relatable and perfectly imperfect characters. I thought this was a well-written and thought-provoking novel that deals with important and relevant issues. I liked how everything came together and especially loved the epilogue.
“ All We Ever Wanted ” was a very powerful and touching read that I’ll be thinking about for quite some time. I’m really looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.
I'd like to thank Ballantine Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
This is a truly powerful, wonderful novel. It’s been many years since I’ve read an Emily Giffin novel, but I enjoyed those books and was excited to read this one. My previous experience with her work did not prepare me for the complex, layered, serious manner of this excellent book.
For most of the first chapter, I thought this was going to be a book about a couple that went from well-off to obscenely wealthy having marital woes. Boo hoo. But when I learned what it was really about, it took a dark turn.
It was important that the story was told from multiple points of view of the mother of the boy accused of taking the comprising photograph of a passed-out girl at a party, the father of the girl, and Lyla herself because you can’t quite figure out who is telling the truth about that night. Also, it’s about the way teenagers don’t want to disappoint their parents, and parents want to do their best for their kids.
There were pleasing twists in the story, and I cried my guts out at the end. Highly recommend.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the opportunity to review this book, which RELEASES JUNE 26, 2018.
For more of my reviews, please visit http://www.theresaalan.net/blog
5 Thought Provoking Stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
This book is a MUST read! Not only was it absolutely brilliant it also touched on so many of today’s issues... it was a book that really made you think... what would I do in that situation? And as a single mother of two boys and a girl I could see so many sides of this story... and this book really made you realize that with social media a teenager’s reputation can be trashed in a matter of minutes.... makes you long for the good old days when you needed to make a trip to the local drugstore to get your pictures developed and your rash words were only ever read/heard by a handful of people...
One night, one thoughtless moment, and lives are changed forever... what do you do when your daughter has had her picture taken in a compromising position at a party and it is plastered all over social media? What do you do if it was your son that took this picture? Meet Tom single father of Lila the girl in the infamous picture and Nina the mother of Finch the photographer.... both parents instant reaction was to defend their children, as all of ours would be, but what is the right thing to do? Wow, this is tough! If I were Tom I’d want blood my heart would break for my daughter in that situation... but what would I do if I were Nina? What If it were one of my boys that took this picture? This was something that nagged at me throughout this entire book.... i’d like to think I do the right thing, I’d like to think my boys would never do something like this.... but how hard would it be to let your son ruin his life over one indiscretion?Ugh still have no idea what I would do, and fingers crossed I never need to figure it out!
This book was told from the perspectives of Nina, Tom, and Lila and I thought this was super effective.... all three characters were likable, relatable, and reel.... Nina was probably the most relatable character to me, because she was a mother... my heart broke for her what a horrible position to be in! But to Nina’s credit she handled the situation with intelligence, grace, and an open mind.... actually all three of these characters handled the situation in a very commendable manner... unfortunately not every character in this book did... it is always amazing that controversy can show people’s true colors....
Loved this book from first page to last and the ending was perfection... strongly encourage everyone to pick up this book and make sure you have a box of tissues nearby when you read it!
*** many thanks to Valentine Books for my copy of this wonderful book ***
All We Ever Wanted is all we’ve come to expect from bestselling author Emily Giffin: an engaging, effortless, readable story that is deceptively likeable and painfully shallow. Giffin asks nothing from readers but a few moments of their time, and in exchange delivers high-gloss low-payoff novels that showcase entitlement and moral ambivalence disguised as depth. By now, her pattern is set, but this time, the stakes are higher.
--It could happen anywhere--
All We Ever Wanted is a domestic drama about the upheaval that occurs when the 18-year-old son of a wealthy and prominent Nashville couple posts a questionable photo of an underage girl, launching reverberations that upend the family’s smug existence and that of friends and relations as well. The premise is compelling. The execution leaves Giffin’s position unclear.
--Like us, only better--
Giffin’s bread and butter characters are what you might call beautiful people with first world problems. The first world is my address, so I’m game for domestic drama of the white privileged set. Heck, some of my best friends are wealthy Caucasians with country club memberships….
The problem is that Giffin wants to write her characters two ways, and it leads her nowhere. She seeks to explore the pitfalls of privilege, yet she absolves her heroines of mistakes and casts them as well-intended victims who are really good people, honest, if you just look behind the Chanel handbag and Mercedes SUV.
--Meet the mom--
When we meet her, the main character, Nina, has ridden high for two decades on the wealth and cache of her husband’s success. She is a walking fashion plate whose fondest expressions come not for her husband or son, but for the custom-made furnishings and designer clothes that her lifestyle affords her.
And good for her. That’s all fine. Three cheers for Nina, no one is judging. She married a wealthy guy, kept herself thin and pretty, it’s her life to enjoy fabric swatches and poached salmon lunches if she so pleases. But when Nina awakens from her comfortable reverie, she notices that her spoiled son and rich husband have bloomed into arrogant snobs. She spends the rest of the book castigating, criticizing, and rejecting them.
What she does not do is mother her son. She never misses a Starbucks, but in the time it takes her to vilify her boy and drift out of his maternal reach, she never once grabs the scruff of his obnoxious neck to launch the tush-kicking that his behavior demands. Indeed, her son is facing dire consequences, either with severe punishment or life as an asshole. Moms step in; Nina steps out.
--Holding out for a hero--
The unsettling part is that, in Giffin world, Nina is the hero. Nina is the character with the moral authority. This woman whose choices have contributed to, if not created, the family crisis, bails on them and casts herself as an innocent victimized bystander. She benefitted from every lazy parenting moment that led here, but neither she nor the book ever say, “Hey, lady, you know this happened on your watch, right?” Instead, her self-involved shirking is supposed to signal some sort of heroic feministic coming of age.
It does no such thing, and this is Giffin’s authorial failing. She is a powerful storyteller with a weak moral compass for her characters. Her stories build a compelling, if cliched, setup, but she is neither honest nor complete when it comes time to dole out denouement and judgment. Perhaps Giffin loves her characters too much to make them fully flawed people; perhaps she is writing too much of her own personal conflicts between success and the desire to be perceived as good. Whatever drives her pen, it should demand more of stories and her characters. Hold them accountable, don’t make them so innocent. Let them come to it honestly.
--Right neighborhood, wrong book--
Giffin is right on one score: there are stories to tell here. The vulnerability of privileged suburban American life to sudden and shocking fragmentation is fertile ground for writers with the guts to write authentic characters and ambiguous conflicts. Two staggering, must-read novels, This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, and The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian, delve similarly into the split-second missteps and external forces that can disrupt and forever alter a modern family’s domestic tranquility.
In contrast, All We Ever Wanted is a minor entry in the genre. For Giffin fans, who appreciate the escapism of her breezy, readable style, this is another easy sell and quick read. For readers looking below the glossy surface, seeking the painful yet redemptive truths that quality fiction can offer, this one will leave you wanting.
I received an advanced review copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin completely blew me away, and it evoked many of the same feelings I had reading Beartown by Fredrik Backman.
What would you do if your son is accused of sharing a picture with his buddies that contains a half naked girl with a racist "joke" as the caption? Well that is exactly what Nina has to find out when her son Finch is accused of doing just that. Told in alternating viewpoints, this book is a heavy hitter that touches on a lot of pertinent issues in today's society. Chapters alternate between Nina, Finch, Lyla who is the girl in the picture, Lyla's dad Tom, plus a bit of Nina's husband Kirk sprinkled in. I loved the way Giffin did this because not only did it keep the story interesting, it also made figuring out who was telling the truth much harder. Each character had a very strong, unique voice so you can tell this isn't Giffin's first rodeo, and the characterization was perfect for me.
While the main storyline has to do with the photo, there is also a touch of romance, marital woes, keeping up with the Joneses, and relationships between parents and their children. There are so many topics touched upon and I found the book to be quite emotional. Not only is the cover of All We Ever Wanted beautiful, but the inside is as well. There is struggle and sadness, but also a good dose of happiness and hope as well.
I LOVED Nina and Lyla, and I think a lot of women will be able to relate to them (even though Lyla is high school age). They are very strong female characters and they weren't doormats which was refreshing to say the least.
Final Thought: I have heard that All We Ever Wanted is nothing like Giffin's other books (which mainly seem to be romantic in nature), but it was such an amazing book that it makes me want to read her other novels right away. Her writing is superb and she is such an amazing storyteller. I will definitely be thinking of this book for months, and maybe even years, to come.
All We Ever Wanted in 3-ish words: Beautiful, Must-Read, Ponderous