Reviewed by Katrina Grenell
Would you risk dying to fully live? That is the question in which protagonist, Madeline, learns to answer throughout Nicola Yoon’s 2015 young adult novel, Everything, Everything, which was nominated for the category of Best Young Adult Fiction for the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards.
Before you rush out to see the film adaptation for this novel (which releases to movie theaters May 19), I highly suggest you wait (even if the film does the book justice), and read Yoon’s incredible page turner first. This romance novel is not like others of its kind. Madeline has just turned eighteen, but she’s as close to being an adult as the earth is distanced from the sun. Having a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (known as SCID) that causes severe reactions (including death) to anything in the world outside her home, she’s been isolated for her entire life. The only things familiar to her are her books, as she admits, “I’ve read many more books than you. It doesn’t matter how many you’ve read. I’ve read more. Believe me. I’ve had the time.” Her house consists of items only sterile and white, which often resembles that of a hospital. For the last seventeen years, she’s only been around her mother, who is also her doctor and primary caretaker, in addition to Carla, the nurse that is with her during the day while her mother works. Madeline cannot attend school – she attends online classes and occasionally gets visits from her tutors in person, but only after they’ve gone through an extremely strict decontamination process after entering her home.
Surprisingly, Madeline is a happy girl. She has a lot more substance to her personality than you’d expect for someone who hasn’t had the privileges of most normal, healthy girls her age, which is what makes her character so relatable yet also so unique. Yoon also creates Madeline’s character with a touch of diversity – Madeline is half African American and half Asian, which speaks to Yoon’s passion for bringing diverse books into the forefront for the Young Adult genre. Madeline doesn’t like it when people feel bad for her, since she knows that her life may end short and she’s already come to terms with it: “I have no patience for books that pretend life has meaning. I have no patience for happy endings.” Madeline, wanting to get down to the knitty gritty, spends most of her time learning new things. Everyday, she learns little facts that are interesting to her about the world outside she longs to see, yet she convinces herself that she’s happy spending her evenings playing board games with her mom.
Everything changes for her when she receives a new next door neighbor: dark, adventurous, and handsome Olly. Madeline has so much to say, since she’s been bottling all of her knowledge up for seventeen years with nobody to share her thoughts about it with. Olly and Madeline have nightly rituals of online instant-messaging, which soon has Madeline pining for more contact, which she gets with the help of her trusted nurse and advocate, Carla. “He’s not safe. He’s not familiar. He’s in constant motion. He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.”
The real lesson begins when Madeline realizes that these rebellious, limited visits from Olly, where they have to sit across the room from each other and aren’t supposed to touch, can’t last forever. She either has to go back, or move forward. She makes a choice – which, when you read into find out – will take you on a twisted ride to realize that nothing is ever as it seems. It will have you questioning your own life, and if you’re using it bravely enough.
Along with courage, this novel will make you deeply question the choices you’ve made, and why you made them, like when one character in the novel reflects on his own choices: “They’d try and make me choose. And I wouldn’t choose them. This way, everybody wins.”
Everyone in this novel is dealing with something, whether they’re sick or not, which is what makes the central theme of the book relate to a sort of intersection of struggle for everyone. Olly is trying to protect his mom and sister from his abusive and alcoholic father, Madeline’s mother Pauline has given everything she has to give to protect Madeline from the dangers of the outside world, and Olly’s friend Zach is struggling to become the proud gay rockstar that he wants to be. Written through the wiser-than-you’d-think voice of Madeline herself, this book takes you through many ups and downs (grab the kleenex for sure!), with unexpected twists and turns, while she grows on you more and more through her revealing of little inserted quirks, like her journal pages, drawings (produced by Nicola Yoon’s husband, David Yoon), book spoilers, and random facts. While Yoon’s writing gave me all the feels, it also made me question my own life, and what is worth fighting for.
“In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.”