”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.”
Thoughts: Alex and Thea Parrott are proof that money does not buy happiness. For now that they have more money and material goods than they can truly ever appreciate, each finds herself longing for the days when they were living in much more modest surroundings, enjoying the company of their mother and each other. In All You Never Wanted Adele Griffin explores the changing nature of money while showcasing an instance of sibling rivalry gone awry.
While All You Never Wanted is a poor little rich girl story, it is one with a dark side. Ms. Griffin delves into the hidden depths of various self-esteem and pathological issues with a gravitas and solemnity that underlies their seriousness. Regardless of their reasons, both Alex and Thea have serious issues with self-esteem, body control issues, acute neediness, and pathological lying. Their actions are by turns heartbreaking and appalling because of their inability to stop. Designed for young audiences, All You Never Wanted is a perfect opportunity to discuss such damaging behaviors among the group most in danger of succumbing to them.
That being said, as serious as their issues and behaviors are, All You Never Wanted is not as effective as it could be given, especially for readers outside of the target audience. It is rather difficult to take Thea’s overriding need to be the center of attention as anything other than the desperate actions of a younger sister trying to find her own spotlight at any expense. She is manipulative, calculating, and altogether too spoiled and selfish to be entirely sympathetic. In fact, a reader will sympathize with her basic need for her mother and for her sister and not with Thea herself, as she very much makes the bed in which she is eventually forced to lay.
As for Alex, the penultimate reason for her issues is laughable. It may seem more traumatic for teenage girls, but for this mother of two, it does not seem that big a deal and definitely not the defining traumatic moment it is for her. This lack of acceptability makes it difficult for readers to completely understand why Alex shuts down to the extent she does, as it seems such a drastic reaction to a fairly trivial accident. Even while one recognizes that there is more to Alex’s problem than even she is aware, the fact that Alex keeps remembering this one event dispels much of the credibility of the entire scenario.
What makes All You Never Wanted so interesting is the self-awareness both Thea and Alex have about their actions and their impact on others. In each chapter, they are individually aware of the harm they are doing to themselves (Alex) or others (Thea) but are unable to stop themselves from doing so. It is as if the real Alex and Thea are trapped behind imposters who force them to act against their better judgments. It makes their actions that much more painful and poignant to experience as a reader.
Ms. Griffin’s All You Never Wanted is really a sociologist’s dream text with its exploration of trauma on a teenager’s psyche and the fundamental issue of unmet needs versus wants. Teen readers will be forced to think about Thea’s and Alex’s situations and hopefully glean some important lessons from them about these very serious issues. Adult readers, however, will find it difficult to reconcile the gravity of their problems with some of the less believable scenarios and to overcome the general feel that this is one novel that is as much about the ills of wealth as it is about the fragile healthiness of teens.