Today’s Professionelle is launching a book club! These reviews are not sponsored whatsoever (in fact, nothing on this site is sponsored), they’re just powerful books that are worth the read.
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What would you do if your son was accused of sending out sexts of his unconscious classmate?
This is a spoiler-free review of All We Ever Wanted, Emily Giffin’s latest book. Emily Giffin is the author of many novels including Something Borrowed and Something Blue, both of which were made into a major movie featuring John Krasinski (aka Jim Halpert) and Kate Hudson. I re-watch it frequently just for Krasinski because he is the definition of a snack.
Giffin’s novels typically focus on chicklit tropes (think: falling in love with your best friend’s fiancé and the ensuing drama, infidelity in marriage, fertility struggles, and what happens when only one spouse wants children), but this book marks a serious departure from her previous work. Released in June 2018, Giffin makes a point of emphasizing throughout the book that she is dealing with an of-the-moment topic – a boy who sends out a sext of an unconscious teenage girl, taken without her consent, and blasted out to their high school’s entire student body on Snapchat. This kind of thing has become so common that this book could be based on any of thousands of news stories.
Three voices are used to tell the story: the teenage victim Lyla, Lyla’s father, and the mother (Nina) of the boy who is accused of taking the picture of Lyla while she was lying unconscious.
The boy responsible for the photo, Finch, quickly apologizes to his school administration, his parents, and the victim herself. But his sincerity is called into question numerous times throughout the novel as new facts are revealed. With each new piece of information, the plot twists in a way that feels very much like how real-world news stories change between the first hour of reporting and the aftermath of the following weeks.
This story is brought even closer to reality by examining the difference between the treatment afforded to the wealthy vs. the working-class. Finch is a wealthy, privileged teenager and Lyla is from the wrong side of the tracks. The community gives the benefit of the doubt to Finch, the alleged perpetrator, rather than to Lyla, the true victim.
Ultimately, this book is a worthwhile read for anyone wishing to dwell a little more deeply on the experiences of youth in the 21st century. It’s packed with references to iPhone apps and the current social climate, including our tendency to judge people by whether or not they voted for Trump. The story is super topical, but it also means that the novel will feel dated in a few years – so if you’re interested, I’d recommend giving it a read sooner than later.
I have two bones to pick before we wrap up. One of my biggest problems with this story is the shallow depiction of Finch’s father. He is a stereotypical rich asshole who tries to push money at every problem and repeatedly ignores the deeper issues of what Finch’s actions say about his character. While we’ve definitely seen this kind of attitude taken by the parents of real-life attackers (I’m looking at you, Brock Turner’s dad), I feel like Giffin missed the opportunity to make this character more nuanced. When the story closes, he’s the same asshole that he was when everything started – all of the character development happens through Finch’s mother, Nina…
This leads me to my second, and biggest, issue with the book. At the very end of the novel, when we finally find out whether Finch is innocent or guilty, we see virtually none of the emotional fallout for Lyla and her family. Giffin spends a huge amount time rehashing her characters’ feelings throughout the novel and then, for some reason, chopped out all of that interiority when it was most essential. Because of this, the epilogue feels like a softball instead of hitting it out of the park.
It shouldn’t take an entire novel to tell your readers that the feelings surrounding these incidents are complicated for the families of victims and (alleged) perpetrators alike. We already know that. We deserved to see Lyla and Finch and Nina grapple with the final twist of the book. I don’t buy that the final scene would have played out in real life the way that it did in the book – and because Giffin’s writing is meant to feel realistic, this is a pretty big strike against it.
You should read this book if: you’re ready to handle a high-dose of emotion and discussion of a difficult topic. Hold out for the ending – you’ll either love it or hate it.
You should not read this book if: you’re looking for a thriller with a ton of fast-paced drama. This book is emotional and explorative, which means that despite the plot twists, you spend a lot of time getting to know the characters rather than seeing them go on thrilling adventures.
Did you enjoy reading All We Ever Wanted? What did you think of the epilogue – am I totally off-base by criticizing the end of the story? Sound off below!