July 09, 2018

All That Was

Written by Karen Rivers
Farrar Straus Giroux
384 pp.
Ages 12-18
January 2018

Seventeen-year-olds Piper and Sloane are friends. On the surface, they are very similar, or at least make themselves appear similar in hair style and colour and clothing, and spend all their time together or they did until the No-Boyfriend Rule is broken.  But Piper and Sloane's friendship is one of contradictions: love and hate, appreciation and disrespect, and camaraderie and rivalry. With that kind of a basis for a friendship, what happens when one of the friends is gone?

Though Sloane Whittaker thinks of herself as common compared to the more exotic Piper Sullivan, Piper is actually more like the flirty alpha in their friendship. If she wants something, she goes after it and is oblivious to the nuances in their friendship that might indicate Sloane may think differently.  So when they attend an art show that includes the work of Soup Sanchez, a boy Sloane has liked since fourth grade, Piper teases her shamelessly until Sloane denies liking him. The next day Piper reveals she and Soup connected after the show and are now going out. Now Sloane must endure Piper's personal divulgences about their kisses and sex while secretly yearning for the boy she has always liked and coincidentally seems to like her. But it's hard to say "No" to Piper. So when Piper decides that Sloane must experience sex, and she sets her up with a boy, James Robert Wilson, Sloane goes along.

But trouble is brewing as Soup and Sloane are regularly thrown together and Piper, oblivious until one fateful night, continues to direct their lives and her story to her best advantage.  That all changes when Piper dies.

All That Was is told in the voices of Sloane and Soup in terms of "Before" and "Now" relative to Piper's death. Most of the story is the "Before" in which we learn about the basis for Sloane and Piper's friendship; their revealing discussions which are both friendly and hostile; Sloane's aspirations to be a documentary filmmaker; and Soup and Piper's relationship. The "Now" brings to light the police investigation and arrest of a murderer, the guilt Sloane and Soup harbour, and the necessity of perspective and forgiveness, even of oneself.

Although many would consider Piper and Sloane frenemies and their friendship essentially doomed, I think it goes far deeper than that. The two girls sincerely love one another as friends but there is an inherent meanness to their interactions.  Theirs is a dance of sarcasm and one-upmanship, trying to be individuals but scared to be separated.  It's a very real relationship though not one to which anyone would aspire. Although I like some aspects of Sloane, probably identifying her as the underdog of the two, neither Piper nor Sloane are very likable. Karen Rivers made them very real–I suspect most teens know a Piper and a Sloane at their high schools–and their connectedness authentic though strained. Whether there is a message here about forgiveness or getting past tragedy, I don't know.  I do know that Karen Rivers makes it clear that not all friendships are rainbows and unicorns, just as she did in her earlier book Finding Ruby Starling (2014).  Some relationships are darker and deeper like crows and tumultuous waters, but they still build our life experiences, good or bad. Sloane and Soup, and yes, even Piper, can take from this chapter and move forward. Sometimes it is what it is. And All That Was just was.


  1. Wow! Sounds like a powerful story. You do such a great job of reviewing these books.