BOOK REVIEW: All We Ever Wanted, the rippling effect of cyberbullying

Griffin, Emily - All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted
Emily Griffin

On the surface, Nina Browning’s life is idyllic. Her family, thanks to her husband’s lucrative sale of his company, has more money than they could ever spend. They life in an exclusive neighborhood in Nashville, Nina spends her time on philanthropy, and their son, a lifer at the prestigious Windsor School, has just been admitted to Princeton. They have everything they have ever wanted–until Finch, Nina’s son, becomes involved in a scandal that threatens not just the stability of their family but his very future.

At a party, Finch allegedly took a picture of a passed out Lyla Volpe, whose absent mother was Brazilian, holding a green Uno card and captioned: “She finally got her green card.” Nina is horrified, but her husband, Kyle, believes they should use their resources to protect Finch at any cost.

The book is told from the alternating points of view of Nina, Lyla, and her father, Tom Volpe. I wondered how Griffin would expand the story to fill an entire novel, but there are some interesting developments exploring themes of entitlement, class differences and the privilege of wealth, cyberbullying, children’s privacy, and the role of parents in terms of protecting children versus teaching them responsibility.

Kirk, and to some extent Finch, are presented as villains and have few if any redeeming characteristics, and I found this problematic, primarily because it seemed unrealistic that they would be so one-dimensional. It also brought out a very unattractive blood lust in myself, and I spent much of the novel hoping they would get their comeuppance and wondering if justice would be achieved.

Nina and Lyla to some extent irritated me because they were so gullible, willing to believe what they wanted and put themselves in unfortunate situations as a result. At the same time, it was interesting to have a character like Nina, a mother who wanted her son to face at least some consequences, since so many novels depict parents as willing to do anything to protect their children from the repercussions of their bad behavior.

All We Ever Wanted is an easy and compelling read and ultimately satisfying though not in the way I expected. At times, though, I thought the prose veered too close to maudlin. It’s not very demanding but is captivating enough that it’s an ideal airplane book.