Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publishing Info: September 2015 by Corgi (first published 2015)
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
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.
I have very conflicted feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was really interesting to see the world from a different perspective in YA, but on the other I’m not sure about how Yoon handled the subject matter. The novel is told from the perspective of Maddy, who has SCID and has not been able to leave her house since she was a tiny baby. The house is adapted with air filters and she has a nurse stay with her all day.
In the first section of the book I really felt connected to Maddy’s character and got a real sense of her isolation from the rest of the world. Despite this isolation, she wasn’t unhappy. She gets on well with her nurse, Carla, and has a great relationship with her mother. I liked seeing her interactions with these two characters in the first half.
Accompanying the story are illustrations and charts which I felt really helped me feel part of Maddy’s small world. They added another dynamic, another way to see what’s going on inside the protagonist’s head. In another book I think they would have been a bit of a gimmick, but in this case they tied together really well with the story, adding another layer to the storytelling.
Then, her whole world changes when Olly turns up. Surprise surprise. I knew what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book, I knew it was going to be a romance. I actually think Maddy and Olly had great chemistry. What I didn’t like was that her character arc seemed to completely revolve around him, for the most part. There was too much emphasis on her life changing because she met a boy. Yes this is a big part of growing up, and especially significant for Maddy as she hasn’t been outside and had the opportunity to meet people. But too many of her decisions seemed to be about being with Olly, not about expanding her own horizon for her, it was all about them. There was also some lines that just made me roll my eyes like “I loved you before I knew you”, which doesn’t really make any sense and is just too cheesy.
Now we move onto my biggest issue with this book, and there will be some slight spoilers here because I can’t say what I want to about this book without giving anything away. The second half becomes a little unrealistic. Maddy reacted to the world far too normally for someone in her situation. I didn’t feel a connection to her because I didn’t feel I was truly seeing the world through her eyes. Almost every sight, sound, smell, sensation is new to her, and Yoon completely missed that.
I didn’t feel connected to Maddy anymore because Yoon wasn’t consistent enough with her portrayal of Maddy’s condition. Maddy has been used to managing her condition for her entire life. She is used to having her heart rate checked regularly, she’s used to having to be careful about what she eats and what she comes into contact with. But when she finally goes outside, out of the safe space of her house, that isn’t carried through.
I don’t know much about SCID or conditions like it, and can’t possibly imagine what it would be like living with a condition like that. I do however have a chronic illness which I have to manage pretty much daily, including keeping an eye on what I’m eating. I don’t understand how when she goes outside for the first time for an extended period of time how she can completely forget about all of that. I don’t care how carefree she is about the situation, when those kind of routines and adaptations you have to make to your life are so long term they’re ingrained in you. When Maddy and Olly go off they regularly ‘have a bite to eat’ or some such throwaway phrase. Yoon established she had to be careful what she eats at the beginning of the book, but there’s no sign of this later on.
How can Maddy not be even a little bit concerned about the things she’s eating and coming into contact with? Why is she not catching herself at the times when she’s used to having her health checks done and realising there is no nurse there to check them? That is such a fixed routine. Wouldn’t it be freeing not to have those checks? But also potentially creating a little anxiety from not knowing if her vitals are okay or not? Is she worried or does she feel relief that she’s free from those restrictions to her life? I don’t know, because Yoon ignored what she had set up in favour of happy romantic scenes with Maddy and Olly. I’m not saying Maddy needs to be worried all the time, but it just seemed unrealistic for her to go from living in a bubble, to acting like a fairly normal teenager who doesn’t have to worry about her health.
Then, my friends, we have the next big issue (big spoiler alert). It turns out Maddy isn’t actually ill! This is the big ‘twist’ in the book. It just felt like a cop out. It was so refreshing to see someone with an illness being represented in a YA book, as you very rarely see any characters who aren’t healthy. But then she isn’t actually ill. I wasn’t really happy with the fact it seemed like the author was using serious illness as a plot device. Maddy gets her happily ever after. She isn’t ill so she can go and be with Olly. Great. Except that’s not reality for people who genuinely have conditions like this. Something about it just felt wrong. This would have been a great twist if it was doing something new with a plot we’ve seen before. But you don’t see people with serious health conditions portrayed in YA, so I felt cheated that it wasn’t actually genuinely representing the experience of someone with SCID.
To conclude this very long review, there are many things I liked about this book, and many things I didn’t. I really enjoyed the first half, the great writing and illustrations worked well together to create a compelling story. I just feel very conflicted about the way the serious health condition was portrayed.