Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. 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?
2. 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.
3. 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?
4. 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?
5. After he requests a divorce, Paul tells Janice, “You don’t need me. You’ve never needed anyone in your life.” Do you find 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?
6. 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?
7. 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 neofeminist principles?
8. 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?
9. 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.
10. 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?