Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard

March 31, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): 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?

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • The premise for this one sounded pretty good. I love stories that involve private schools and scandals, and the idea of a coach — a member of the founder’s family, no less — tolerating hazing in this day and age had the makings of a compelling novel. Toss in a headmaster with a tweed jacket and a box of discount acid cigars on his desk, and we’re in business!
  • The last chapters that showed how Sylvie moved on were perhaps the most satisfying for me. I didn’t even like Sylvie throughout most of the book, but when the focus remained on her (and only her), I started to appreciate her more. I’m glad she got into wedding photography and was able to see people at their happiest. After her miserable life, she deserved at least that.


  • Every single one of the characters was insufferable for 99% of the book. I hated all of them — and not just because they were high-brow snobs. They were self-absorbed and uninteresting, and WEAK. Maybe my family just isn’t “blue blood” enough, but I can’t fathom how or why people would rather remain silent and wallow in misunderstandings for over a decade instead of hashing things out. What a waste.
  • Scott had to be the worst character of all. What a complete asshole he was. I can’t believe how he treated his mother, despite being a full-grown adult who had enjoyed all the advantages of growing up as a Bates-McAllister. I was happy when he left, and just wish he hadn’t returned.
  • I couldn’t stand how the POV shifted constantly. If there had been at least one interesting character in the bunch, maybe it would have been okay. But to go round and round between Charles, Joanna, Scott, and Sylvie was just exhausting and unnecessary.
  • The “hazing scandal” played such a minor role in this novel that I felt cheated. It was little more than a MacGuffin, which was a poor choice on the author’s part. I have a feeling that if the book HAD actually been about a scandal, it would have been 1000x better. (BTW, the boy died of a staph infection for those of you keep score at home.)
  • Joanna’s mother with her Munchausen syndrome was a wholly unnecessary addition to the book. Really, what purpose did she serve — except maybe as an excuse to get Joanna and Scott together for one day. Totally boring.
  • The big “reveal” that Charles’ high school girlfriend Bronwyn was his father’s mystery mistress was sooooo predictable and dumb. Ugh, I don’t even have the energy to write more coherently about how idiotic it was.


Everything We Ever Wanted was my first Sara Shepard book and will very likely be my last. There were some good ideas here, but the author decided to treat this as an ongoing soap opera of ordinary struggles within a single family instead of making this book ABOUT something specific. Sure, ongoing problems are closer to real life than something with a beginning, middle, and end; but it doesn’t work as well for fiction. This story was much ado about nothing and featured the blandest characters imaginable, making it a true recipe for disaster. I give it 1 star out of 5.

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