Review: All You Never Wanted

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: All You Never WantedAll You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin
Published by Knopf BFYR on October 9, 2012
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 240
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central

With my eyes closed and Alex's core friends all around me, it was like I'd become my big sister, or something just as good. And so who cared if they were calling it Alex's party? One thing I knew: it would be remembered as mine.

Alex has it all—brains, beauty, popularity, and a dangerously hot boyfriend. Her little sister Thea wants it all, and she's stepped up her game to get it. Even if it means spinning the truth to win the attention she deserves. Even if it means uncovering a shocking secret her older sister never wanted to share. Even if it means crying wolf.

Told in the alternating voices of Alex and Thea, Adele Griffin's mesmerizing new novel is the story of a sibling rivalry on speed.

First Sentence: “She gets into the car and then she can’t drive it.”

Over the past year, I’ve been discovering a love for realistic fiction, my home base having always been fantasy novels for pretty much all of my YA-reading past. When I was an actual teen, my favorite genre to read was chick lit: humor, sexy times, and a hot man for every woman; I pretty much hoped that would be my future. As I’ve gotten older and seen that this would not be my future, these happy novels have failed to move me most of the time, seeming much less realistic than their depressing counterparts. With Adele Griffin, I have found another author who writes books full of broken characters and feels.

At its core, All You Never Wanted is the story of two sisters, Thea and Alex. Both are broken, unable to exist comfortably in their own skins. They used to be happy, even after their parents’ divorce and father’s abandonment. What undid them was their mother’s remarriage. Interestingly enough, the problem was not Arthur, the mother’s new husband, who treats them well and would do anything for them. The issue is his wealth, and that he travels so much on business, taking their mother with him.

During the time where they had very little money, both girls working to help the family scrape buy and pay the bills, the three of them were a tight family unit. They were close and happy. With the money and resulting luxury, the three have grown apart. More separate and free, the two girls find it hard to figure out who they are or how to behave. The fact that both are classic ‘poor little rich girls’ is made less obnoxious by their acknowledgment and distaste of that fact, as well as by the fact that they have not always been this way.

Alex speeds toward hermit status, afraid to leave Camelot (the name of their immense house) because of a traumatic experience she had during her internship at a fashion magazine. She withdraws more and more, skipping school, shutting out her boyfriend and sister, refusing to eat, and only barely managing to continue tutoring at Empty Hands, a volunteer center. This last may seem the least important, but her work there, kids like Leonard who count on her, are the only tether keeping her from closing herself inside permanently.

Thea has always worshipped her prettier, older, better-liked sister. Before, Thea was a nerd, who delighted in essay contests and winning trophies for academic achievement. As Alex disappears, Thea overcompensates for the loss of her idol by trying to become Alex, single white female style. No longer caring about her grades, she throws herself into a web of lies in an effort to entertain the highest echelon in her high school, to become one of the popular kids. On top of that, Thea wants Alex’s boyfriend, Joshua.

Griffin uses an interesting narrative style to accomplish this tale: Thea’s perspective is first person, and Alex’s third person limited. This can be a tricky technique to pull off with multiple perspectives, but Griffin does so marvelously. Thea’s personality fits a first person narration perfectly, since she’s such a storyteller. She wants to be able to tell the audience what’s going on in her life her way, put her spin on it and make it a better story. Alex has no desire to be known, feels foreign even to herself.

I ripped through this brief novel, caught up in the drama and pain of their lives. My biggest issue with the book is that I just could not believe the truth of Alex’s trauma once I heard it. Call me a terrible person, but I definitely laughed, though it does allow for a nice joke at the end. Also, complex and real as they were, I never bonded with Alex and Thea. Of the two, though, I liked Alex best, despite her weird issue, especially since she has a touching romantic story line.

From what I’ve heard, this is not Griffin’s best novel, but, even so, I can tell that I need to read more Griffin. Her writing has a unique flair and she does not turn away from darkness. Given its brevity, this is well worth a read if you find the concept intriguing or have enjoyed Griffin before. This would make a great readalike for Denise Jaden’s Never Enough or Sarah Wylie’s All These Lives.

Favorite Quote:

“‘This is like a dream I never dreamed about.'”

8 responses to “Review: All You Never Wanted”

  1. Audra says:

    Interesting! I wasn’t drawn in by the title or cover but after your review, I’m curious…!

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I wasn’t initially all that interested in this one, either, but I got a review copy, so I went for it. Though not a perfect book, I thought it was really interesting and very much not run of the mill.

  2. This actually sounds interesting now! I always think I’d be happier if I were rich. I still think so, so this must be fiction for money to make things worse. 😉

  3. I almost picked this up this weekend, it does look like something I would really enjoy now that I have read your review! I’m kinda sad I didn’t grab it now 🙁

  4. Nori says:

    I like need to know what happened to Alex, right now…

    It kinda sounds like the book, Pieces of Us, which was also about two sisters and one who tries to take the place of the popular one. And the popular one also had a traumatic experience turn her into more of a hermit.

    I’ve been loving realistic/contemporary fiction lately too. And totally agree about chick lit working better for me when I was younger…

    • Christina says:

      If you read this, you will not even believe what her secret shame is. OMG.

      Still, I’m not sure if you’ll like this one too much, but I guess we’ll find out!

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