Title: Everything We Ever Wanted
Author: Sara Shepard
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Sylvia Bates-McAllister recently lost her husband and has been focusing on her job as a board member of the private school that her grandfather founded. However, even that refuge is shattered when Sylvia is informed that her son, Scott, has been implicated in a student’s death. The teenager committed suicide, and there are rumors that he was hazed at the hands of his fellow students and Scott, the coach, allowed it to happen. This news changes each member of the Bates-McAllister family and forces them to reevaluate their lives.
Everything We Ever Wanted is a timely novel packed with discussion points that many readers will appreciate. The book focuses on four characters: Sylvia, her sons Scott and Charles, and Charles’ wife Joanna. Each of these characters has serious issues that they must address, both personally and with one another. I would venture to say that neither Scott nor Charles are really likeable, especially on the surface; they both seem selfish, and Charles cannot get over his resentment of his adopted brother. On the other hand, Scott seems completely ungrateful; his parents have given him everything, and he chooses to squander their love and resources.
The entire novel centers around the distortion between perceptions and reality. At some point in the novel, each character in Everything We Ever Wanted must face the fact that reality may not be in line with the way they perceive it. For Joanna, it’s marrying into the Bates-McAllister family; she had this idea of a grandiose style of life with glitz and glamour, but she discovers instead that the family is like their house: a crumbling façade desperate to keep up appearances.
Likewise, Charles and Joanna have a certain perception of Scott, who seems to relish in destroying what is around him. While the truth is more complex than that, Scott does nothing to try and change their opinion. It provokes an interesting discussion - whose job is it to try and communicate the truth? Should Charles and Joanna have tried harder, dug deeper, or is it Scott’s job to communicate his true feelings, to rise above their perceptions? Questions like this will have readers itching to discuss this book, and as a result it would make a great book club pick.
I really could discuss the characters in Everything We Ever Wanted for hours. They are each complex and extremely well crafted; they jump off the page, screaming to be treated as real people rather than characters in a novel. They aren’t all likeable, nor are their actions always easy to understand, but in the end, Shepard reminds us of one thing: they are human. They make mistakes and errors in judgment, but in the end, family is family.