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All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

A Novel

Janelle Brown


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (5/26/2008)
Digital Audiobook (5/26/2008)
Hardcover (5/27/2008)
Hardcover, Large Print, Large Print (12/1/2008)
Paperback (4/1/2009)


On the day Paul Miller’s pharmaceutical company goes public, he informs his wife, Janice, that their marriage is over and that the new fortune is his alone. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Miller’s older daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her hot actor boyfriend and is failing at her job, kind of spectacularly. Sliding toward bankruptcy, Margaret bails and heads for home, where her confused and lonesome teenage sister, Lizzie, is struggling with problems of her own: She’s become the school slut.

From behind the walls of their Georgian colonial bunker, the Miller women wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, evangelical neighbors, and country club ladies–and in the process all illusions and artifice fall away, forcing them to reckon with something far scarier and more consequential: their true selves.

Praise For All We Ever Wanted Was Everything: A Novel

“A withering Silicon Valley satire . . . From the ashes of their California dreams, the three [women] must learn to talk to each other instead of past each other, and build a new, slightly more realistic existence—but not without doses of revenge and hilarity. Brown's hip narrative reads like a sharp, contemporary twist on The Corrections.”—Publishers Weekly

“A razor-sharp critique of the absurd expectations that, these days, have come to stand for ambition, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is wrenching, riveting, and still manages to be great fun. This is a wise, intimate chronicle of one family’s struggle to take off their masks and live in the place they most feared: the real, imperfect world.”—Meghan Daum, author of The Quality of Life Report

“Rarely does a first novelist write with such confidence and grace. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a marvelous book.”—Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

“Janelle Brown's beautiful debut explores the tiny fissures in our lives and what happens when those fissures erupt into chasms. Excruciatingly funny, unrelentingly painful—this extraordinary book gives us something only the best novels can: a glimpse of what it means to be human.”—Katherine Taylor, author of Rules for Saying Goodbye
“[An] unapologetically soapy mix of teen sex, quarter-life crises, food porn and mean-girl politics . . . a summery, old-fashioned page turner.”—Salon

Random House, 9780385524025, 448pp.

Publication Date: May 12, 2009

About the Author

Janelle Brown is a freelance journalist who writes for the New York Times, Vogue, Wired, Elle, and Self, among other publications, and was formerly a senior writer for Salon. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles. This is her first novel.

Conversation Starters from

Discuss the epigraph by J.M. Barrie and its meaning in the novel. How are the notions of failure, success, and personal fulfillment examined in the book and are they complicated by the expectations of family, culture, and society?

This novel is centered on three very different women. Explore the concepts of femininity and feminism in the novel and the ways in which Janice, Margaret, and Lizzie reinforce and challenge those models.

Location plays an important part in the novel, magnifying and thwarting characters’ aspirations. Examine the setting in this novel. What do Santa Rita, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and California itself symbolize? Could this story take place anywhere else?

In the first chapter, Janice dreams of buying a piece of art with her new fortune—”she covets a Van Gogh, one like those she saw a few years back. The violence of the paint applied in furious layers so thick that she could see the impressions of the artist’s fingers, clawing at the canvas—she felt like she’d been slapped. The color! As vivid as a hallucination.” Is this object of desire an obvious one for Janice? What can we glean about Janice from her choice of a Van Gogh, in particular?

After he requests a divorce, Paul tells Janice, “You don’t need me. You’ve never needed anyone in your life.” Do you find there is truth in Paul’s statement? Does Janice come across as completely self-reliant or hopelessly dependent? Or is Paul projecting his own feelings onto her, trying to justify leaving the marriage?

At the beginning of the novel, Janice and Margaret seem to be antagonists. Does this remain the case throughout the story? By the end of the novel, do Janice and Margaret merely understand each other, or have they grown more alike?

At first glance, Bart seems like an odd choice for Margaret’s affection. Why does she fall for him and how does she reconcile her love with her neo-feminist principles?

The Miller women cope with their predicaments through various means—the accumulation of material objects, money, drugs, religion, ambition, and sex. How effective are these ultimately and what do they have in common?

After an unsuccessful and desperate attempt to score it, Janice races to the hospital to meet Margaret and Lizzie, who has just been released from the emergency room. The text reads, “For the first time in longer than she can recall, [Janice] feels happy.” In many ways, this is such a low moment; explain what the author means.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a satire. What or who is the object of the author’s critique? Some early readers likened the novel to the film “American Beauty.” Do you see a similarity between the two works? What is Janelle Brown’s message to her readers?