Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard

A recently widowed mother of two, Sylvie Bates-McAllister finds her life upended by a late-night phone call from the headmaster of the prestigious private school founded by her grandfather where her adopted son Scott teaches. Allegations of Scott’s involvement in a hazing scandal cause a ripple effect, throwing the entire family into chaos. For Charles, Sylvie’s biological son, it dredges up a ghost from the past who is suddenly painfully present. For his wife Joanna, it forces her to reevaluate everything she’s hoped for in the golden Bates-McAllisters. And for Scott, it illuminates harsh truths about a world he has never truly felt himself a part of.

But for all the Bates-McAllisters, the call exposes a tangled web of secrets that ties the family together: the mystery of the school hazing, the event that tore Charles and Scott apart the night of their high school awards ceremony, and the intended recipient of a certain bracelet. The quest to unravel the truth takes the family on individual journeys across state lines, into hospitals, through the Pennsylvania woods, and face-to-face with the long-dormant question: what if the life you always planned for and dreamed of isn’t what you want after all?

This was my first introduction to Sara Shepard. I've heard of the success of her Pretty Little Liars and Lying Games series and while this is an adult novel, I thought I'd give it a try.

The story is centered around a very dysfunctional family. Sylvie - the matriarch of the family - is awaken by a phone call. There is a death at the private school that her adopted son, Scott, works in as a wrestling coach. There is talk of hazing. Then the assumptions start; or, I should say continue.

It's clear, from the beginning, that this family hardly talks to each other about anything substantial. Everyone assumes that Scott had something to do with the death of the student, yet, no one talks directly to him. The family history is shown through flashbacks from Sylvie and her biological son, Charles. Even in the flashbacks it's clear that there is no communication. Charles carries this attitude into his marriage with Joanna, who, while a little better than Sylvie, Scott and Charles, also makes a lot of assumptions.

It seemed as though all the conflicts were centered around conjectures by one or more parties. It made for a very comedic tragedy in a sense, a reflection on a society that could sometimes be together, but yet be alone.

I was a bit confused with the ending. There didn't seem to be any solid resolution and the last several chapters read as a very long epilogue. In the very end we finally hear Scott's point of view, which turns out to be a little anti-climactic.

The story dragged in a few places and the conflict between Joanna and Charles was never resolved in the narrative, however, one can assume that they worked it out somehow.

Overall I found that the story itself wasn't enough to engage me - most likely because of the lack of communication between the characters. Yet, there were a few subplots that were interesting enough to keep me turning the pages.

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