Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything was another that had been on my radar for a while and that I finally found on one of Amazon's sudden $1.99 flash sales. I'd avoided it before because I'd read several cutesy/heartbreaking stories about sick kids in a row and wanted something different.
Everything, Everything is the story of Madeline Whittier, a nearly-18-year-old with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Disease (SCID). She hasn't left the house in probably about 15 years. There is a special airlock chamber between the front door and the entry door to the house, all the air is purified, she gets bland versions of all her meals, they have only fake plants, she can't touch anyone, and anyone who visits (nurses, doctors, and the occasional tutor) has to go through an intense decontamination process. She spends her days with her nurse, and her evenings playing games or watching movies with her mother.
Then a family moves in next door, and she makes eyes with Oliver, the gothy boy whose body vibrates with nervous energy. They first develop an online friendship that not-so-slowly develops into something else, and then suddenly Madeline finds herself wanting more out of everything for the first time.
I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.
I was so charmed and excited by how the story was told. It's largely straight-forward first person POV interspersed with emails, online chats, posts to her Tumblr book blog, charts of Madeline's school assignments, drawings (by Yoon's husband), and other similar delightful details. For me, these touches never felt hokey or unnecessary. The writing was gorgeous, the characters diverse and sympathetic. Madeline's sadness and loneliness feels real without feeling melodramatic or hyperbolic, and she cares intensely about her family and those around her. I was engrossed from start to finish.
Maybe you're wondering why, despite all this love, am I giving this book only three-and-a-half stars (rounded up on Goodreads)? Honestly, I was getting ready to give it five stars and then realized maybe I was over-compensating for a marathon of not-so-great books lately.
I avoided this novel for almost a year because it sounded so much like so many other books I'd read recently - The Fault in Our Stars, All the Bright Places. And I loved those books. From almost the beginning, Everything, Everything reminded me of TFiOS in particular, from the jokey narrative voice to the big-idea philosophical conversations to the tragic, doomed if kinda-insta romance. Oliver is sweet, even if he is there primarily to help Madeline herself grow as a character. He has his own tragic story, and they talk to it, but it definitely doesn't feel central to the story at all.
I want to say something, not just something, but the perfect thing to comfort him, to make him forget his family for a few minutes, but I can't think of it. This is why people touch. Sometimes words are just not enough.
The ending. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it was a bit of a letdown. I raved about the majority of the book to my husband after I finished it. He said, "So that's a five star, right?"
"Well," I said, "but there's the ending..."
After I finished describing it to him, he said, "Man, what a copout!"
I don't know if I'd say that necessarily, but there is something pretty unsatisfying about the ending.
Still and all, I'd recommend it. Yoon definitely plays off what makes books like TFiOS work so well, and you can't blame her for it, even if you've seen it so many times before.
3 1/2 stars
I've been thinking a lot about this book lately, especially the ending. In truth, when I first finished the book, the ending did not sit well with me. Sam wasn't wrong to call it a copout, though it's much more than that. The MC gets her happy ending because, as it turns out, she isn't really disabled at all. She doesn't have to continue to live with the thing she's thought she's going to have to live with forever. This doesn't seem like a responsible way to tell this story, or the right way to tell it. Maddy does have to deal with her mother, who has essentially imprisoned her needlessly her entire life, and who seems to have some version of Munchausen by proxy. And this is a horrible situation and of itself.
I haven't changed anything in my initial review, because that seems disingenuous, but I did want to add this edit.
I've recently read a review on Disability in Kidlit that helped me better understand and articulate the problematic aspects of this novel. As Jennifer J. Johnson said:
Read her entire incredible review here.
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on September 1, 2015