This is another exceptional book by this author (her book The Sun Is Also A Star made my top ten list last year). Everything Everything was this author’s debut book.
At first I avoided reading this book, even though I loved her next book so much, because I knew this one was about SCID, the immunodeficiency disease that requires kids to live in vacuum-sealed sterile environments. It’s not at all that I mind reading books about illnesses; rather, the problem is that I used to work for the team that made some seminal discoveries in treating SCID. The two top doctor-researchers were sexual predators and used grant money to fuel their affairs. The outside world, however, saw them as “heroes.” The thought of revisiting those memories sort of made me sick. But thankfully, because it’s a wonderful book, the “Nicola Yoon” part of the equation won me over.
The story is about Madeline (“Maddy”) Whittier, who has lived her entire life since early infancy inside a sterile environment, never allowed outside her house in California. She is home-schooled by computer. The only people who can enter the house, such as her nurse Carla, have to go through a hour of decontamination each time. Maddy’s mom is a doctor and helps care for her every day after Carla goes home.
The book begins on Maddy’s 18th birthday. Or as she views it:
“Another whole year of being sick, no hope for a cure on the horizon. Another year of missing all the normal teenagery things – learner’s permits, first kiss, prom, first heartbreak, first fender bender. Another year of my mom doing nothing but working and taking care of me. Every other day these omissions are easy – easier, at least – to ignore.”
When she makes a birthday wish, she doesn’t ask for the obvious – “a magical cure that will allow me to run free outside like a wild animal”; she just wishes for “world peace.”
Then from her window Maddy sees new people move in across the street. The unhappy family grouping consists of an alcoholic abusive father, a terrorized mother, and two kids – Kara who is younger than she, and Oliver, or Olly, who is around Maddy’s age. Olly sees Maddy in her window, and writes his email address on his window. They start getting to know each other through frequent texts and messages, the content of which is shown in an appealing mix of formats throughout the book that also includes occasional medical charts, drawings from Maddy’s journals, and other illustrations. (These were made by Yoon’s husband, David Yoon.)
Since Maddy spends most of her life reading, there are also short one-sentence book reviews interspersed throughout the story.
For the first time, Maddy begins to want more than she has. Nurse Carla has her own 18-year-old, and takes Maddy’s longing to heart. She arranges for Olly to go through decontamination and have visits during the day they keep secret from Maddy’s mom, who would never allow it. (After the first time, Carla made them wait a whole week before another, to ensure there were no deleterious health repercussions for Maddy. The wait seemed endless to Maddy. She mused “I’m sort of convinced that time has literally, and not just metaphorically slowed down, but that’s the kind of thing that would make headlines.”) They have more visits thereafter and get closer; Maddy finds her mind “constantly tuning into Radio Olly.” Then one day, through her window, Maddy sees something that causes her to forget everything else, and she runs outside to Olly’s rescue.
A big twist near the end actually succeeds in turning the story into a different story.
Discussion: There is a lot of discussion in this book about risk, and whether it is better never to try anything dangerous or potentially heart-breaking, including love, or to break down your barriers to let in the joy that comes from a life experienced fully. As Maddy says in her short review of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Spoiler alert: Love is worth everything. Everything.”
It’s also a story about learning to appreciate what so many of us take for granted. Maddy, who has never smelled the grass or been in the ocean or even walked around in a city, can’t believe that so many people go through life “without knowing what was precious in it.” Maddy compares experiencing the world outside to the Big Bang: before there was nothing. “And then there was everything.”
Evaluation: This is a terrific book – funny, clever, heart-breaking, heart-soaring, and full of musings about profound questions that should inspire its young adult audience to think more deeply about the world around them. The romantic scenes are outstanding: very little anatomy, but lots of poetry.
Rating: 4.5/5 (Once again, I give Yoon 4.5 instead of 5 because the story stopped too soon! I wanted it to keep going and going!)
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2017