Janie Hickok Siess's Reviews > All We Ever Wanted

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
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Unlike her husband, Kirk, Nina Browning did not have a privileged upbringing. But since Kirk sold his software company a few years ago, their Nashville social status has been elevated. Fabulously wealthy and able to afford anything they want, the Brownings appear to have everything they ever wanted: security, a beautiful home, friends, and Finch, their only child. A high school senior who has attended the exclusive Windsor Academy his entire life, he has just been accepted to Princeton.

In contrast, Tom Volpe is carpenter and part-time Uber driver raising his daughter, Lyla, alone on the other side of the river, i.e. "the other side of the tracks." More than a decade ago, Lyla's mother, who had a drinking problem, left but she has stayed in touch sporadically, turning up for occasional visits. Lyla attends Windsor Academy on a scholarship. Lyla wants to fit in with her wealthy classmates, and engages in typical teenage behavior such as sneaking out with her girlfriends and experimenting sexually.

What started out as a typical Saturday night turns out to be the night that Finch makes "the worst decision of his life." A photo taken during a party at his friend Beau's house changes the lives of the Brownings and Volpes. That photo of a partially unclad Lyla bearing a racist caption is distributed to Finch's Windsor Academy friends, setting off a series of events that none of them could have imagined.

Emily Giffin tackles a controversial and timely topic -- powerful technology misused by teenagers. But All We Ever Wanted is an unapologetic, unflinching morality play in which technology serves as the plot device to set up the conflict. At the heart of the story are characters facing a timeless dilemma: What is the right thing to do? It is a tale about class structure, power, and the things that power can, but should not buy. It is a study in conscience and how those who lack a moral compass will do anything to evade the consequences of their actions. It is a story about betrayal, told from the perspectives of Nina, Tom, and Lyla as they navigate a scandal and search for the truth about what happened on that fateful Saturday night. Did Finch take the photo, add the caption, and send it to his friends? Or was it take by someone else who distributed it in order to retaliate? Ultimately, it is a story about how well it is possible to really know those you love the most.

Nina is the moral centerpiece of the story, a decent woman who has happened upon and never been fully comfortable living an ostentatious lifestyle. The incident at the party forces her to take a good look at her life and marriage. With no remaining alternatives, she has to admit that she and Kirk have been drifting apart even since he sold his company and she has doubted much about their relationship, but never before dared to voice, much less confront those doubts. Giffin's writing is at its finest, however, as Nina questions the way in which they have raised their son. She thought she taught him to be a kind, compassionate, honest young man. But as events unfold, she critiques her own mothering of Finch even as she resolves that she will never abandon or give up on the fundamental goodness she knows she instilled in her son. Tom is also forced to analyze his parenting style, acknowledging that he has overcompensated for the fact that Lyla's mother abandoned her by being overprotective and volatile. But like Nina, he is determined to do what is right and best for his daughter. Giffin also tenderly but believably portrays Nina's disappointment, as well as her strength and resiliency in the face of complete disillusionment.

All We Ever Wanted is a cautionary tale for parents, as well as a searing exploration of the consequences of one careless, casual act that will leave readers pondering "What would I do if . . .?" It is a riveting and deeply moving story about good people trying to do their best in trying circumstances that will resonate with readers.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.

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Reading Progress

June 30, 2018 – Started Reading
July 2, 2018 – Shelved
July 2, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 2, 2018 – Finished Reading

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