All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin is a very well-written, timely novel. This is a must-read.
As I mentioned in my preview, All We Ever Wanted is different from Giffin’s previous work. I’m a big fan of hers going back to Something Borrowed. Her stories up until All We Ever Wanted, centered on romances for the most part. This one is definitely not a romance but instead deals with timely issues of social media abuse and consent. It also covers class, race and a bit of politics.
I really commend Giffin for taking a different direction with this read. If it would have been another romance, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it like I always do with her books. But she took a risk and it completely paid off.
The story centers on three different people: Nina, a well-off woman wondering if she fits into Nashville’s elite and her family, Tom, a blue-collar carpenter trying his best to raise Lyla, his teenager daughter, on his own and Lyla, who’s trying to find her place in this world, especially in her rich, private school.
A photograph taken of a drunken moment at a party changes the three characters lives forever.
Class and race
Two big components of this novel is focused on class and race. Right away, the book jumps into Nina’s privilege world as she heads out to a charity gala with her husband. We learn that Nina didn’t come from money but she married into it. And her husband got even richer when he sold his software company. While Nina enjoys not worrying about money, she’s starting to realize it might come at a higher cost.
This is in contrast to Tom who works multiple jobs to make ends meet. Tom’s ex-wife left the family when Lyla was little. He’s not a fan of the ultra rich, especially at Lyla’s school, but he recognizes how the school can give Lyla more opportunity. While not a perfect dad, he’s doing the best he can on his own.
Lyla is half-Brazilian but yet, she’s mistaken for Hispanic and Italian. Both class and race intersect in this one and become major plot points.
The story is told from the three characters point of view, which gives more context to the story. They’re all likable: I felt for Nina, Tom loves his daughter and is a firm believer in right and wrong and Lyla, who really shows her strength and perseverance as the story goes on.
Abuse of social media
The story revolves around a snap of Lyla taken without her consent. In a sense, this story is terrifying because it brings to light how social media can be used to harm. The abuse of social media makes headlines each day so this is a timely topic.
The horrifying snap splits the community into two sides. As the mother of the teenage boy who took the photo, Nina struggles on which side she should be on. The action makes her question her own loyalty and love. As we learn more about her background and her son’s actions before and after the snap, she’s left with some hard choices to make.
Beyond race, class and social media, this one is also relevant for the #metoo movement. That section is hard to read but Giffin writes it as delicately as she can.
There are plenty of twists in this read and you’ll find yourself angry at certain characters, I certainly did. Lyla is the victim and I felt Giffin wrote her very well for her age. We read her reactions to the image and her shame, horror and embarrassment. And also her blindspots to the truth.
I love Giffin’s writing style, her dialogue comes at an ease and she’s talented at making characters sound and act distinct. Emily Giffin fans will still very much enjoy this book and I’m sure she gains new fans with this one too.
This is also a complete story. You’ll know what I mean when you finish it.