All We Ever Wanted examines what happens when parents of teenagers are asleep at the wheel. It also contains some other rather tedious social commentary.
Nina Browning lives a life of wealthy privilege. She and her husband, Kirk, are a fixture of Nashville society, regularly attending benefits, belonging to the right club, sending their son to an elite private school. Her life fundamentally changes when her son, Finch, texts a picture of Lyla, a 16-year-old “scholarship girl,” in a compromising position. The photo includes a racist caption and it quickly spreads throughout the school community.
Lyla is a dishonest, sneaky girl who regularly lies to her father and consistently exhibits bad judgment. When I told my teenage daughter about this character, she expressed frustration about books and movies that include this stereotype of teenagers. That’s my girl! For some reason, Nina thinks she’s amazing and the author tries to make her a hero. The picture of Lyla being passed around is of her in a revealing dress, passed out on a bed at a party she wasn’t supposed to be at. When she first sees the picture, she is pretty indifferent. Her strongest reaction is that she’s glad she looks good in the photo.
But you know who does care? Her father, Tom, a carpenter and single father who has raised Lyla since she was 4. He is rightfully livid and wants blood. He was probably the most relatable character in the book. He pushes the school for justice, hoping to get Finch suspended, potentially sabotaging his acceptance to Princeton.
Meanwhile, Nina is realizing she dropped the ball with raising Finch. She is also figuring out that her husband is a highly flawed man who is successfully molding Finch in his image. In fact, Finch and Nick hash some nefarious schemes to get Finch off the hook. And, unfortunately, those schemes are the most interesting parts of the book.
All We Ever Wanted tries to make a statement about the #metoo movement and “slut shaming” that fell flat for me. In the process of trying to dispel a couple of stereotypes, it perpetuated several more – sneaky teenagers, hypocritical Christians, unethical rich people, heartless and prejudiced Republicans. It’s unfortunate because the story line had potential and some of the plot was quite good. But the shortcomings ruined it for me. I just can’t recommend it.
Up next is the Secret of Santa Vittoria which was published in 1966, the year of my birth. It’s part of the “12 Months of Reading Goodness” challenge. Have you selected your book yet?