Desert Isle Keeper
All We Ever Wanted
Emily Giffin’s latest novel, All We Ever Wanted, is a compulsively readable story that focuses on three people all faced with difficult, life-changing choices.
Nina Browning is living the life she’s always dreamed of. Her husband has recently made a small fortune in the tech industry, and they’re well and truly part of the Nashville elite. Their seventeen-year-old son Finch has just been accepted at Princeton, and Nina is eager to see what the future holds for him. True, her marriage may have cooled off a bit in recent years, but Nina considers herself to be a practical sort who knows that marriage isn’t sunshine and roses all the time.
Tom Volpe’s life is the opposite of Nina’s in pretty much every possible way. He’s a single father who works two jobs and struggles to bring up his teenage daughter with little to no input from his ex-wife. He wants fifteen-year-old Lyla to have the best possible opportunities, so when she gets a scholarship to the prestigious Windsor Academy, he starts to believe things are looking up for the two of them. If Lyla settles in well at Windsor, she’ll be mingling with the right kind of people and the sky will be the limit for her.
Lyla is struggling to fit in at Windsor. Being a scholarship student is challenging, and she sometimes wonders if the social ostracism she experiences on a daily basis is going to be her lot in life for the remainder of her high school career. Sure, she has a few friends, but she desperately wants to be one of the popular girls who reign supreme at Windsor Academy. In hopes of being noticed by the in-crowd, Lyla accompanies her best friend to a party, a decision that will change the lives of those around her in unthinkable ways.
When a picture of Lyla in a compromising position begins to make the rounds at Windsor, Tom is determined to see the responsible party punished. Lyla reluctantly admits that Finch Browning was the one who took the picture, and the lives of the two families collide.
Nina is horrified to learn that her son did such a thing, but she’s even more appalled by Finch’s obvious lack of remorse. He’s clearly worried about how the scandal will affect his admittance to Princeton, but he seems to have no real sense that what he did was wrong. He claims he was just joking around, and nothing Nina says gets through to him. Nina apologizes to both Tom and Lyla, a fact which Tom appreciates, but she knows it’s not enough.
Soon, the entire community is polarized as Tom, Nina, and Lyla try to come to terms with what has happened. They’re all forced to face some hard truths about themselves and the choices they’ve made, and each of them must re-examine their hopes and dreams for the future.
All We Ever Wanted is a story that feels completely believable, and the author does a great job getting into the heads of all the characters and making them feel like real, relatable people. I didn’t like all of them, but I don’t think I was supposed to, and I admired the growth of the three main characters, especially Nina. At first, she comes off as kind of shallow, but she actually turns out to have quite a bit of depth.
I was worried that the novel would rely on shock value, but that turned out not to be the case. Ms. Giffin takes great care to tell this story in a sensitive manner while being true to the various characters. There aren’t a load of extraneous details about the incident between Finch and Lyla. We know that he took a picture of her in a semi-undressed state, but the author doesn’t hit readers over the head with lurid descriptions of the photograph. Instead, she focuses on the emotional implications the picture has for everyone involved.
I sped through this book in less than twenty-four hours. It wasn’t always an easy read, but it’s an important story that I’m glad the author chose to tell. It has the ability to get people to re-examine their own privilege and the effect it might have on their fellow human beings, and any book that can get people to think critically about their lives is a book I’m more than happy to recommend.