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Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

everything everythingThis innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.

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.

Note: This will be a mostly-spoiler free review – apologies in advance if anything is hinted at that you might consider spoiler-y!

“I’ve read many more books than you,” declares Madeline Whittier at the start of the novel. “…Believe me, I’ve had the time.” How could I not love a book that starts off talking about reading books?

How could I not love a character like Madeline (Maddy), who lives on what she refers to as “SCID Row”, for the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency that has kept her locked up in her house for the past seventeen years. Madeline has had the same schedule, documented right down to the number of breaths per minute every day of her life, until Olly and his family move in next door. All of a sudden, her routine of charts, scheduled events and one sentence spoiler reviews of famous reads isn’t enough for Madeline any more,

Madeline is a keen observer of life. Not having the chance to live her own, she is fascinated by what goes on around her and the stories that people tell. Quirky illustrations pepper the book and give us a sense of the true Madeline, filled with humour and intelligence and a longing to live life. She is pulled in by Olly and his amusing adventures with a Bundt cake (you really need to read it to understand it) – and who wouldn’t? Olly is wonderful, engaging and complicated — just what Madeline needs.

Olly: what’s wrong with a good limerick?

Madeline: “Good limerick” is a contradiction in terms.

Olly: what’s your favourite?

Madeline: Haiku

Olly: haikus are awful. they’re just less fun limericks

Madeline: You’ve been downgraded from heathen to heretic.

Olly: noted. 

Their initial email exchanges are sweet and very funny, with Olly declaring at the end of their third written encounter,”We’re going to be friends.” Friends they become, and something more beyond. They admit to each other that who they are online is not the entirely the truth (“you’ve got your secrets. i’ve got mine” states Olly) and I appreciated that the book gives them time to play and get to know each other before digging deeper. Soon, email isn’t enough and her nurse, Carla helps the two to meet in person under very controlled circumstances., and these visits encourage Madeline to look beyond the boundaries of her house and her own life in order to want more (very Romeo & Juliet, except that Juliet is the one more likely to die in this scenario).

Part of the charm of this book lies in how Madeline is allowed to develop and grow as a character. As we learn more about Olly, our affection for him grows hand in hand with Madeline’s, and we begin to see just how her love for him is changing who she is. Both teens have flawed families with parents who make mistakes, and they need to learn to accept their parents for who they are. Madeline has a lot to learn about the world and her place in it, and I loved how organic Yoon made that process. As she becomes more self-aware and begins to make riskier decisions about her life, she begins to see that she holds more agency over her future than she previously thought.

There is a third act surprise that really isn’t one if you’ve been paying attention, but everyone’s reactions are well within normal and Yoon handles the change in tempo perfectly. Anger and sorrow are powerful mechanisms for change, and you begin to understand the decisions people make in the depths of grief. There is also a sensitively handled sexual interlude between Olly and Maddy, and it reads perfectly in line with their characters. It’s certainly not anything outside what readers of any other YA might encounter.

Everything, Everything is beautifully written, filled with characters who capture your imagination as well as your heart as they discover what it means to fall in love. Madeline is more than her disease would have you believe, and Olly is the perfect foil on her journey towards becoming who she is meant to be. This is the perfect end of summer read, capturing the emotions of first love and new adventures.

Everything, Everything is published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Penguin Random House. A copy was provided by Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your favourite book retailers as of September 1st, 2015. ISBN: 9780553496642, 320 pages

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