All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

I’m finding that a lot of the current books I’m reading contain themes that are very relevant in today’s society and culture. Emily Giffin’s newest novel deals with social media and the broader consequences and societal implications that happen when decisions are made without thinking through the possible  repercussions. In this novel, readers follow three different people as they struggle choosing between their family and their values. The core message present throughout this book is incredibly relevant to people in all walks of life: are you willing to compromise your beliefs, and if so, how far would you go?

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin tells a devastating story from the point of view of three different people: Nina, Tom, and Lyla. Nina has married into Nashville’s elite. Her husband’s tech business has rocketed them into wealth. Her son Finch is attending Windsor Academy, a prestigious private school, and has just been accepted into an even more prestigious college. Their lives are perfect.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs to help put his daughter through school. While they may not have everything, the life that they are living is nothing to be scoffed at.

Lyla is Tom’s teenage daughter. Her mother left when she was young, a situation she has to deal with on a daily basis. Wanting to give his daughter a better life, Tom works hard for Lyla to attend Windsor. Lyla finds herself going to school amongst all this wealth and privilege, while she attends the school on scholarship. Lyla doesn’t always fit in, but lucky for her, she has some friends that help her along the way.

Everything seems to be working out for Nina, Tom, and Lyla. Nina is happy with her husband and son, Tom’s businesses are providing him with the income and stability he needs, and Lyla is succeeding in school. Everything comes to a crashing halt with a picture taken at a party. Finch takes the offending picture of Lyla passed out,  captions it with an offensive saying, and sends it out to some of his closest friends. Spreading like wildfire, the picture soon makes it way out to everyone in the community, including Finch’s parents while they are at a dinner party.

The aftermath of this life-changing picture works to divide the Windsor community into two separate camps: those rallying behind Finch and those sympathizing with Lyla. Dealing with scandal, shame, and blame, Lyla, Tom, and Nina all have to decide how far they’re willing to go in two areas: support of family or standing by your beliefs. Nina struggles justifying the actions of her husband and son, while reconciling their behaviors with an event from her past that begins to poke through as her moral compass. Tom’s reaction and Nina’s husband’s reaction are at odds, leaving Nina unsure of who to side with and how she wants the rest of her life to go. Lyla wrestles with teenage hormones, her feelings for Finch, and her understated and sometimes missing outrage at what was done to her. Tom is extremely upset, but finds himself trying to reconcile Lyla’s somewhat bizarre reaction to this incident with his immense desire to seek revenge, sympathy, and what he deems is appropriate recompense for the wrong done to Lyla.


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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a massive undertaking of a book. (The audiobook was over 30 hours long!) Despite its length, this book is masterfully crafted and deals with a wide variety of topics from drug use to terrorism to museums to alcoholism to loss to survival. So many different themes that some reviewers have called this book an odyssey. I would have to agree with them. I definitely felt like I was being given the complete tour of the main character’s life, as well as everyone that he came in contact with.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt tells the story of the life of Theodore Decker. This book follows Theo’s life starting as a young boy in New York City to his current situation as a man in his twenties who has wound up back in New York. As a young boy, Theo lives with his mother after his father abandoned them. Out one day with his mother, Theo miraculously survives a horrendous attack that kills his mother and many other people. Traumatized, alone, and unsure of his future, Theo finds himself ensconced in the home of a wealthy friend. When his father unexpectedly pops back into his life, Theo finds himself ripped from his only place of security into a whirlwind of confusion. He bounces around the country meeting new people, but is always drawn back to New York, the girl he met the day of the attack, and the artifact he found. This artifact, a painting, leads Theo down an unexpected road into the art underworld. Theo’s life journey, accompanied by this small, mysterious painting, is perilous: full of loss, mania, fixations, power struggles, new identities, and the looming, heady sensation of anguish and grief.

This book is such a rich expanse of wonder that, once you are finished, you will be left gaping at everything that the author was able to pack in. It’s not shocking that this book won the Pulitzer Prize. Tartt has created a masterwork that takes readers through present-day America as Theo struggles to find himself amidst unbelievable loss and tragedy. Tartt pays such close attention to Theo’s feelings that readers are acutely aware of everything that is happening around him and how the tragedy he has suffered has deeply changed him. This is a story of massive loss and overwhelming survival, of obsession and the need to become a new person. Highly recommended.


This book is also available in the following formats: