All You Never Wanted, by Adele Griffin

My only previous experience with popular YA author Adele Griffin was Tighter, her modern-day retelling of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. I was underwhelmed by Tighter, but I've always loved James's novella, so I had some residual goodwill for Griffin's story despite its disappointingly weak ending.

Sadly, I felt zero goodwill (residual or otherwise) about Griffin's latest effort, All You Never Wanted. Instead, I spent most of the book fantasizing about punching both of its main characters in the face. Thanks to their mother's remarriage to a Connecticut millionaire, sisters Alex and Thea's lifestyle has undergone a massive change. After years of barely making ends meet, the girls deal with their newfound luxury in different, but equally destructive ways—when the ritzy internship her stepfather arranged goes wrong, Alex begins to obsessively restrict her diet, while Thea uses her money and gift for lying to scramble up her school's social ladder.

It was difficult for me to decide which sister I disliked more: Thea, who lies like a rug and tries to steal her sister's pot-dealing boyfriend, or Alex, who is clearly meant to be the story's protagonist (she, like, volunteers with poor kids and stuff), but lets one—admittedly humiliating—experience take over her entire life. (Plus, she totally ditches those poor kids when it suits her.) If I were still a teenager, I might have gotten a vicarious thrill out of Griffin's descriptions of the girls' 1% lifestyle, but as it is I found myself wondering where their mother was, and why she hadn't shipped both girls off to intensive therapy. Or a convent.

To be fair, Griffin has a notable talent for description, and, for at least the first half of the book, I was mildly invested in learning what brought Alex and Thea to their current situation and what could possibly drag them out of it. Unfortunately, the “big reveal” regarding the sisters' backgrounds and futures turned out to be ridiculous, and none of the book's other themes—sibling rivalry, anxiety, compulsive lying—held much charm, either. Fans of overwrought melodramas about... very little, actually, might enjoy this. As for me, I'm off to re-read Cold Comfort Farm as a palate-cleanser.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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