I hate trying to review books that I loved and books that really got to me on an emotional level. All I Ever Wanted falls into both categories, so I’m not going to try to be intellectual about this at all. Instead, here’s a list:
Five things I loved about All I Ever Wanted
1. It has a brilliant fallible first person narrative. When it’s done well, first person fallible is easily my favourite narrative style, and here it’s used to a wonderful effect. As readers, we only see what Mim sees and know the things that she wants to tell us. This means that her growth and discoveries are signposted but not obvious. When her perspective changes, ours does too and, when she misjudges people, so do we. It’s powerful stuff.
2. It focusses on the kinds of Australians who are so often left out of the fictional record. Mim’s family is poor, they’ve been mixed up with drugs and crime and they live on the worst street in town, surrounded by other people in difficult circumstances. At first, we see these characters through Mim’s judgemental eyes, but as the book progresses, we are allowed to see the beauty in so many of them – and the ugliness in someone who Mim formerly found beautiful.
3. It takes the coming-of-age genre and develops it into something new. Usually, coming-of-age books are about growing up and moving on and out. All I Ever Wanted is about coming back home again. It’s about accepting, rather than rejecting, what you’ve known.
4. It’s about love and community. It’s about the love of family, even through differences and difficulties. It’s about friendships new and old and about accepting friends’ failures along with admitting your own. It’s about neighbourhoods and the kind of community that comes from facing adversity together and understanding each other. It’s about finding support in places you didn’t expect it, and discovering it’s been there all along.
5. All I Ever Wanted hurts. It is joyous as well. The writing is elegant and pretty and the heart of it grabs you and doesn’t let go. I cried after reading it from the emotional build-up and I’m emotional again writing this review. It is difficult and complicated and subjective and hopeful, just like life itself.
And one extra thing, which will mean nothing to those who haven’t read the novel.
Vikki Wakefield deserves all the praise that she’s received for this novel. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Warning: contains an attempted rape scene, and references to domestic violence and animal cruelty