Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.
Alloy Entertainment, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2015.
YA realistic fiction, 311 pages.
Lexile: HL610L (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 4.4 (worth 7.0 points)
NOTE: This is a teen read, not intended for 3rd or 4th graders despite the reading level!
Madeline has a rare disorder known as SCID – which amounts to being so allergic to the world around her that she can never leave her house. And with the internet, books, a nurse who is also a friend, and silly game nights with her mother, she doesn’t need to go anywhere. Until Olly’s family moves in next door.
Well, I predicted that I wouldn’t enjoy this one as much as The Sun is Also a Star, and I definitely didn’t. First, it’s told in diary/im/notes which often annoys me. Second, it’s a teenage romance that occurs quickly and unrealistically which also annoys me. There are instances of abusive families which are not handled well or realistically but more as a fantasy narrative. (Spoiler, but this book handles that type of narrative in a very appropriate and realistic way.)
There were some pluses. Obviously, #ownvoices authors are always a big plus. I was surprised that Maddy’s mixed heritage and her parents ethnicities were specified while that of the white characters was never inquired into.
Also, the cover. Can we just pause a moment to admire this gripping and perfect cover? I mean, let’s not judge the book just by its cover, but it certainly sums up the story.
Then again, this story is a romance. I’m okay with romances but have gotten too old and jaded for the teen “life with you is better than life and life without you is death” melodrama. It is heavily idealized and unrealistic. People tell Husband and I constantly that our marriage is like a fairy tale, but they aren’t around for the 2 a.m. fights.
This book passes the Bechdel test (as I would hope given that most of the characters are female) but most of the scenes don’t. This is a teen romance that tries to have a deeper meaning but ends up just unintentionally insulting the groups involved.
Now for my biggest issues. First, the major plot twist. Basically it becomes a fully ablist narrative which denies that disabled people can have a happy ending outside of a cure (which may or may not be wanted). This Disability in Kidlit review says all the things I want to say but better and from a more authoritative viewpoint.
Also it’s pretty sexist. Even though all the major conflict in the story is really between Madeline and her mother, the resolution is focused solely on Maddy and Olly reuniting. Madeline’s mother is left completely unresolved and still severely mentally ill.
So the message here is that being healthy and with a guy is all really matters.
On a minor note, why did there have to be a sex scene? Yes, it’s a YA romance, and two teenagers were written into a hotel room alone together. However given that not only have they known each other a very short amount of time, but also she hasn’t known hardly anybody in real life, the whole thing felt very instalove and ridiculous.
I know some of you are probably thinking I’m just need to get over it. However, a 6th grader I tutor was given this book in class. Books usually skew to a younger audience, so it is very frustrating to me how so many diverse YA books have something like this to keep me from stocking them in my middle grade library.
Aside from a brief moment of awkwardness where she isn’t comfortable prancing around the room naked, the sex is perfect, nothing hurts or goes wrong, and it only cements their love. Is this the best message to be sending to 11 and 12 year olds? No matter how horny they were, there’s no way that Maddy was going to move from never having touched any male to experiencing perfect sex. In fact, teenage hormones tend to bring the awkwardness and uncomfortable moments to a maximum.
There was also a very minor subplot about one of Olly’s friends who is gay but closeted. At first I was happy to see more diverse representation, but honestly, even the way that was handled irritated me. He’s just going to stay closeted because that way everyone is happy? It was too obviously a mirror for the dynamic between Madeline and her mother, and the character too underdeveloped to be interesting.
End of Spoilers
Based on the content in this book, it’s a great example for why grown-ups should never choose a book for children based solely on the reading level.
In short, skip this one and head straight to The Sun is Also a Star. Most writers have a good first book and fumble a bit with their second. Yoon appears to have reversed this trend and hit her stride with her second novel. I hope the trend continues and her next book is even better (less insta-love, please…).