Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book came to me highly recommended by a friend (and generously gifted by my grandmother, who buys me books every year for Christmas. She’s the real MVP.) and of course that set my expectations high.

I found this book somewhere on a list of books similar to The Fault In Our Stars, which is honestly where I find a great deal of my books.

Everything, Everything is the story of Madeline Whittier, an 18-year-old girl with SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) who spends all of her time in her home with just her mother and her home health nurse. Zero outside time, zero contact with any other living beings (except on very rare occasions when they are decontaminated by air showers).

The start of this book is… terrible. I’m sorry, but it is. Madeline Whittier begins her story by telling us she’s read more books than we have and it feels like she (or the author, maybe) is trying too hard to pull us in by either offending us or amazing us, neither of which comes to fruition.

After that, Madeline spends the first chunk of pages describing her mundane days sitting alone in her house with books, fonetik skrabbl, her nurse, and her mom in the comfort of a pristine, white house with ventilation to safely circulate the air. Maddy is the quintessential bubble girl.

Shortly after the novel begins, new neighbors move in to the house next door- two parents and two teenagers. Maddy can’t help but watch their every move. She documents their daily schedule and has pantomime-window-conversations with Olly (the teenage boy).

Perhaps reading this novel during a global pandemic where I have been sitting in my home much in the same way that Maddy has, was unwise. Or maybe the issue going into this was how much I know about SCID. Maybe I just shouldn’t have read it after reading Unstoppable Moses, which was phenomenal. I’m not sure.

Maddy and Olly forge a friendship via instant messaging and email, which quickly turns into a romance when Maddy’s nurse, Carla, allows them to meet.

When Olly’s abusive father punches him in the stomach on the front lawn, Maddy finds herself barreling through the air-lock system and into the outside-for the first time since infancy. Her mother is terrified and enraged and her ability to communicate with Olly is cut off, and this is when the book begins to resonate with me a little bit more.

In the absence of her ability to talk to the boy she loves, Maddy feels overwhelmed by her emotions and her desire for Olly’s attention. After approximately 30 pages, Maddy says goodbye to her mom and runs away to explore the world.

The plot twist that comes near the end of the book is something I began to anticipate every moment that Maddy was outside, but it still caught me off guard when it came.

Nicola Yoon has a voice that’s easy to follow and read, but the characters aren’t quite as likeable as some of those in my favorite novels- it’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they don’t feel like they have enough depth. But then, maybe it’s because Maddy’s been living in a literal bubble her entire life and has been sheltered from pain?

Maddy is a bookworm who enjoys honor Pictionary and architecture, but as she begins to experience life, she begins to feel more real. Perhaps that was intentional.

Olly is introduced to us as… well, frankly I felt uncomfortable with some of the descriptions of him because he just seemed really fake and weird and like the author was trying too hard to make him seem quirky. But again, as the story carried on, he grew on me.

The plot of this book was undeniably impressive and clever.

On Goodreads, I gave this book 4 stars:

The first 155 pages are so very dull I thought I was going to hate this book. But then, on page 155, I started to feel connected to this book and to Maddy, finally. The adventure that follows is captivating and the plot twist toward the end is surreal. I don’t know if I’d say pages 155-238 & 262-the end make up for the other pages between which are incredibly boring (and sometimes feel like the characters are too obvious or trying too hard), but the middle and end of this book are truly spectacular in a way that I did not anticipate. The writing style is good, the plot is great. The background information just feels a little tedious at times. But then I guess you wouldn’t understand how monumental the plot was if you didn’t learn about how tedious Maddy’s life was prior.

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