Everyone is afraid of death. It’s one of those universal truths that we all live with and while we may feel like we’re invincible when we’re teenagers, there’s always been fiction which undercuts that. Were you into fiction that was set in our world? There are books that will satisfy your young adult death craving such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars or Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember. Want to be more fanciful? Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have you covered.
There’s an allure to reading about death. At first, I was puzzled about why there were so many deaths in Young Adult fiction before I looked over at my bookshelf and saw all of the true crime that was waiting for me there. Death fascinates us all and when written well (like it was in Everything, Everything), for the purpose of telling a good story rather than simply trying to write porn for emotions, the death of teens can be incredibly cathartic to read about.
Aside from how scary that last sentence sounded when I read it back to myself, I’ve had a growing appreciation for Young Adult fiction lately. With books like The Hunger Games, we’ve seen interesting premises sprouting out of that area of fiction in the past ten years or so. So when I first found out about Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, I was excited, but also just a little bit wary. It’s inevitable with how popular the novel was, that every book about a teenage girl who is in danger of dying at any moment will be compared to The Fault in Our Stars and while I enjoyed John Green’s magnum opus the first time I read it, my affection has faded considerably.
Maybe it was the kiss in the Anne Frank museum. Maybe it was just how bitter and done with the world the teens in the book were. I had heard good things about Everything, Everything but it had to be more than just good, it had to be different.
We start the novel with an introduction to Madeline, our main character and perspective for the rest of the story. She’s never left her house for as long as she can remember and she lives with her nurse, Carla, and her doting mother. Madeline has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder and her immune system is so weak that stray germs could kill her. So Madeline stays inside and even as she dreams about going swimming, she knows that’s not going to be her life.
It doesn’t bother Madeline at first. The routine is comforting to her. This is her life and she loves the people in it even if she feels like there’s something more that she’s missing. Then, Olly moves in next door.
His life is dynamic and changeable compared to how static Madeline’s is. Her life is predictable and on a schedule, but Olly introduces those flickers of entropy into her life that she’s been missing. She’s fascinated with him as soon as she sees him and to quote Madeline:
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.
As I mentioned earlier, I was wary when I first went into this novel. I was worried that it was going to be The Fault in Our Stars, but with SCIDs instead of Cancer, but a couple chapters were all it took to allay my fears. For one, the teenagers in this book actually feel like they’re teenagers. Often, when someone who’s older is writing teenagers there can be a strange and unnatural tone to the way that those teenage characters speak. I don’t get that vibe here. By letting the characters in the story simply speak and by avoiding the pitfall of trying to cram current slang into the novel, it’s easy for the reader to convince themselves that these are teens.
Not teens who want to read pretentious novels and debate philosophy, but teens who are dealing with some serious stuff and enjoy each other’s company. Overall, the entire book is adorable in its own way and I don’t mean that as a put down. The characters are relatable and charming. Madeline’s life with her disease is tragic, but Everything, Everything is not a tragedy. Our main girl, Madeline, is far too strong to let her life become nothing more than a tragedy.
Despite the lack of control in her day to day life, we see the world from Madeline’s perspective and in many ways, she’s in complete control of herself. Madeline is the one who sets the boundaries for her interpersonal relationships and she’s the one who takes matters into her own hands when she feels that she needs to. This is wonderful enough, but what truly sets Madeline (or Maddy, can I call you Maddy?) apart is that she hasn’t locked away her hope.
Characters from other novels who were faced with the same situation may have despaired or thrown tantrums, but Maddy doesn’t turn to sarcasm to hide her fear. Instead, she’s willing to make that choice to either embrace her fear or turn away from it completely. Either way, she doesn’t wear a mask to hide herself from the world and that in itself is refreshing.
Beyond that, Maddy comes from a mixed racial background. She’s both of African American and Asian descent, something which is brought up multiple times. That’s not to say that Everything, Everything objectifies or exoticizes Maddy. I feel like Yoon took steps to avoid any “othering” of our main protagonist without also turning her into a character who could be swapped with anyone else. Maddy is strong and vibrant, reaching out to us and burrowing into our hearts with her story.
There are illustrations that reminded me of The Little Prince that add help add life to the book and despite the multiple formats that we are told Maddy’s story throughout the novel, it never gets confusing. Sometimes we’re in third person and close over Maddy’s shoulder. Other times, we’re reading her email or her IM chats. It should get confusing or feel jarring, but somehow it never crosses that line.
Everything, Everything is a wonderful read and I would highly recommend it, even if you don’t tend to like young adult or aren’t interested in novels about teens who have life-threatening diseases.
Endearing and memorable, it’s the perfect escape.
P.S. I love that I learned a word from reading this book.
a mechanical model of the solar system, or of just the sun, earth, and moon, used to represent their relative positions and motions.