All You Never WantedFeatured
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.
Unflinching Look at Mentally-Broken Sisters
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.
A Dark and Disturbing Story of Sibling Rivalry
A dark and disturbing story of sibling rivalry, All You Never Wanted is unlike any contemporary I've ever read. Both protagonists have their own issues - one is a pathological liar while the other is literally wasting away to nothing because of her anxiety - yet those issues pale in comparison to the underlying jealousy motivating every action. With an overnight romance and a vaguely abrupt ending though, All You Never Wanted left me wanting more.
Thea is Alex's younger sister, tired of living in her shadow. Having decided to re-imagine herself in her inner popular self's image, someone she calls Gia, she's desperate to fit in. And that means becoming best friends with Alex's friends, a group she calls the Blondes, and secretly coveting Alex's boyfriend, Jason. Thea's storyline in All You Never Wanted was enough to capture my attention, as her imagination was constantly in overdrive, working on a new story that might help her to become a part of the popular crowd.
"This story is nasty and everyone is spelbound and that's power. They're all hooked and I'm in focus, I'm mixing up this thing like I'm the smoothest bartender in the newest club for people who've all decided at this moment I'm one of them. And if there's guilt down my spine, it's nothing like the heat on my skin as I raise my voice to land it. Likes take nerve, which I'm working on. But nobody needs to know that."
She wasn't above making up a lie in order to become the center of attention, and she had no concern for the consequences; she fully believed she'd be able to talk herself out of any situation with another lie.
While watching Thea descend into desperation, we also had to endure Alex's anxiety-ridden neurosis, which at times, was completely debilitating. Having experienced something traumatizing during a summer internship, Alex has become a shell of the person she once was. Fearful of losing control over her body, she limits what she eats/drinks to the point of developing what seems to be an eating disorder. She has distanced herself from both her friends and family (leaving room for Thea to weasel her way into their lives) and has days where she's unable to pull her car out of the driveway.
With such compelling backstories, All You Never Wanted had me completely hooked. But as Thea's lies became more outrageous and she became more desperate to replace Alex, my concern for her mental health increased to the point where I had to wonder if she would have been clinically diagnosed with some sort of psychosis - and why none of her friends/family thought the same and thought to seek out professional help. And because of the extreme reaction Alex showed to her traumatizing event, I was convinced something extremely damaging had to have happened to her. When the details surrounding the event unfolded, I was left feeling...underwhelmed? What happened would definitely have been mortifying, but I can't imagine it affecting my life as drastically as it affected Alex's.
Towards the end, I loved watching Alex begin to recapture control and live her life again, but I was annoyed that she needed a guy to help her find herself. My annoyance was only strengthened by Alex and Xander's instant romance. Their relationship was so sudden and out-of-the-blue, that I was left wondering if I had missed a chapter. Alex's entire outlook on her life was completely changed by one interaction, and with Xander at her side, it was like her traumatizing event had never happened. And after only one day together, Alex was talking about possibly being in love with Xander! I just wasn't buying it. Add in the completely vague ending, where Thea tells Alex a secret that we're never privy to, and I was left quite disappointed after All You Never Wanted's potential-filled beginning.
With absolutely no resolution for Thea, and something that might be seen as running away from her problems for Alex, All You Never Wanted really came up short in the end. I love that Griffin didn't try to tie everything up in a nice bow, but some resolution is necessary so I don't feel like I've wasted my time. But a really well-done, though complicated, relationship between sisters and a writing style that I enjoyed did make All You Never Wanted a mostly entertaining read.
Troubled Sibling Rivalry
I know there are mixed reviews out there on this one, and honestly I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. On a small level, this is the story of two sisters that suffer the devastating effects of becoming nouveau rich. On a much larger and deeper level, however, this is a story of sibling rivalry… and that story is dark and troubled.
Thea is the younger sister tired living in Alex’s shadow. She has developed this image of what her life should be like and it eats away at her. It consumes her, really. Thea’s story sucks you in from the beginning. She is so screwed up that you can’t help but continue to read because you want to find out where that train wreck is heading. And what a train wreck she is! Is she crazy? Yes, but that’s an understatement. Border line psychotic? Oh yeah. Pathological liar? Mmm, yep. An endangerment to herself and those around her? Right again! Like I said, complete train wreck.
While Thea’s highly disturbing story unfolds, the mystery surrounding Alex’s neurosis also unravels. You can tell that Alex was once this amazing person (that probably wasn’t too likeable), but her unfortunate “event” has left her scared and damaged. So is so damaged, in fact, that she is allowing herself to fade away—literally. She’s got a plate full of issues to handle too!
So yes, I thought the story behind these two sisters was very interesting. Compelling even. I was captivated for the most part. But the other characters did not hit the mark for me, and I think they took away from the book as a whole. For starters, Alex’s boyfriend was a douche bag. Barf. I understand the purpose he played, but geez. Then there was Vincent… I really liked Vincent, but the whole Alex-Vincent “thing” was too rushed. It happened so quickly. In one paragraph the entire orbit of this book changed and I wasn’t fully buying it. Sorry. I’m happy with the ending. I think it worked, even if it left a lot of questions unanswered. I can certainly say there is no neat little bow ending to annoy you, and that is commendable.
Overall, I think what could have been a phenomenal story was rushed in places, which ultimately took away from the force of the story between the covers. It was still a good read for older YA readers, but not my favorite in this genre.