Book Review: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin

Sisters Alex and Thea are the personification of the Cinderella story: essentially rescued by their mom’s new billionaire husband, the girls live in a mansion in Greenwich.  They have little supervision, everything they could ever want when it comes to clothes and cars, and are both totally miserable.  Each girl deals with the change in their circumstance in a different way: older sister Alex restricts her enjoyment of their opulent lifestyle in the same way she restricts what she puts in her body while younger sister Thea attempts to reinvent herself, using whatever lie she needs in order to make it into the top of the social stratosphere.  One night and one party will alter the girls’ lives forever.

Adele Griffin is a National Book Award finalist, and with her most recent offering, it’s easy to see why.  Filled with gorgeous prose and characters who feel uncomfortably real, Griffin offers a gripping story about two sisters who are self-destructive in very different ways.  Oftentimes hard to read because of its unflinching honesty, this is a novel that will resonate with readers who like their YA raw, a little gritty, and totally real.

There’s the fact that Griffin manages to get into the heads of her characters in a way that few authors can.  Griffin has an unparalleled skill when it comes to getting at what makes her characters tick.  Both Alex and Thea have incredibly distinctive, authentic voices.  Both girls carry a great deal of pain, and neither one knows how to deal with it.  The increasing absence of their mother only adds fuel to the fire, and the result can be painful to read about.

It’s not just the characters themselves that propel this novel forward.  Griffin manages to get the details exactly right.  Her descriptions of the ridiculously luxurious lifestyles that these teens live are pitch-perfect.  Griffin’s ability to contrast the girls’ past with their presence is particularly astute, making this novel not only entertaining but also thought-provoking when it comes to issues of socioeconomic status.

Highly, highly recommended.  This is excellently written, beautifully characterized, and well-paced.  There’s particular appeal here for teen girls who like their YA stories a little grittier.

All You Never Wanted is out today.

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

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