from my bookshelf: all we ever wanted by emily giffin


nina browning marries kirk browning, one of the wealthiest men in nashville; they met at vanderbilt, after nina left her simple life in bristol, tennessee, behind. kirk elevated their lifestyle from well-off to what some call “obscenely” wealthy after selling his tech business. their son, finch, is a senior at an elite nashville private school, and is preparing to attend princeton in the fall. everything seems too good to be true. and it is.

tom volpe is raising his daughter, lyla, alone. lyla is a financial aid student and struggles to find a sense of belonging when so many differences wedge themselves between her and her classmates: racial divides, socioeconomic differences, and zip codes.

the brownings’ and volpes’ stories become intertwined when finch and lyla attend a party that gets out of hand one night. finch takes an action that threatens to derail his post-grad plans, and lyla starts the painful process of learning that your first love isn’t necessarily who you think they are…no matter how badly you want them to be.


“But as Walter nodded and patted him once on the back, I caught a glint of determination in Finch’s eyes. Something that channeled his father and made me shiver a little inside.”

“The rare solitude filled me with simultaneous relief and panic.”

“I wanted to talk to her–so intensely that it didn’t quite make sense. Only it did–as if there was no way not to make a connection between the present and the past, her story and mine, ancient and buried though the memories were.”

“I wanted to hear his voice more than anything in the world, but it was four in the morning, and I told myself he would be asleep and had an early class. I shouldn’t wake him up. But deep down, I knew the real reason was that I couldn’t bring myself to tell him what had happened any more than I could bring myself to lie to him.”

“But I also knew in my heart that I wouldn’t cover for my son if he committed a terrible crime. Any crime. I wouldn’t lie for him. I wouldn’t obstruct justice for him. I would stand by him, but I would also want him to confess and truly repent and bear responsibility for his actions. I would want him to earn and deserve his forgiveness.”

“A look of hurt flickered across his face, and I realized, too late, that maybe I’d said the wrong thing. Then again, it was the truth. I did miss my mother. Maybe not even my mother but the idea of having one around. Especially at times like this, when a father’s idea of empathy just wasn’t enough.”

“I’d always pictured marriages severing more dramatically, with an explosive fight or irrefutable proof (stronger than a pocket dial) of an affair. But in that quiet moment in Kirk’s office waiting for our son to return from a concert with a girl he had mistreated and maybe even manipulated, I felt in my bones that my marriage was over.”

“Finch is either completely innocent or a total sociopath. He’s either more like his mother or exactly like his father. I have no clue which one it is, but I will find out.”

“…as he gets closer, I can tell that he’s still unmistakably Finch, and remind myself that people seldom really change.”

“…I’m not really thanking him for his letter, but for being here tonight in Tennessee, wearing a crumpled overcoat that smells like an airplane. For showing up for his mother.”