Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Synopsis: Madeline has a rare disease that makes her allergic to everything and has kept her in her house for 18 years.  But her isolation comes to an unexpected end when a family moves in next door.  

Reflection:

What does it mean to live?  To breath and be alive?  To experience the world and all its mysteries?  In Everything, Everything, the debut novel of Nicola Yoon, Madeline Whittier faces those questions with intensity.

Everything, Everything is a Young Adult novel full of teenage love, drama, and rebellion.  It follows the life of Madeline, a girl who has never in her memory been outside of her home due to a rare disease making her allergic to everything.  Yoon adeptly combines first person narrative and primary sources from Madeline like medical documents, emails, and IM’s to tell the story.  This is a very appealing technique to use for a young adult audience as it adds variety, maintains interest, and encourages readers to draw their own conclusions.  (As a former teacher, books that lend themselves to encouraging reading comprehension, like drawing conclusions, are great!)

Yoon’s style adds to the intensity of Madeline’s questions and pondering of the meaning of live.  Having lived a life of solitude and routine, everything changes when neighbors move in.  Olly, one of the neighbors and Madeline develop a friendship through the window, which leads to emailing, instant messaging, and permanently altering the course of Madeline’s life.

Since the neighbors are such a key component to the story, I think I should add that the ‘neighbors’ are the only thing that bothered me in Everything, Everything.  Not Olly or his family, who have an interested side story, but the fact that in the almost 18 years of living in her house, Madeline and her mom have only had neighbors twice and both for brief periods of time.  This would make sense if they lived in a not so good neighborhood, with abandoned homes, or in a vacation home area, but that is not the sense the reader is given.  The area seems higher end, it accommodates Madeline’s medical needs, her mom is a doctor, they can afford a nice home.  If it were a vacation home, people would be coming and going all the time and neighbors probably wouldn’t face Madeline, but that isn’t how it is presented.  Instead in the 18 years she has been there, they had a neighbor for a summer when she was eight, and now Olly’s family at 18.  Obviously, this is not a deal breaker for the book, just an oddity I had a hard time overcoming.  But perhaps I missed something or misread it, in which case please let me know!

Aside from having few neighbors and friends, Madeline struggles with the question “What does it mean to live?”  She discusses this with her nurse Carla and with Olly.  Is it just to be somewhat healthy, and breathing, or is it to be doing and experiencing things in the world with other people in the world?  Paired with that Madeline spends a lot of time thinking about ‘moments.’  For a while she is convinced a single moment led to her life of solitude and if she could find it and change it, her life would be completely different.  But would she have met the person who caused her to seek change if it was different?  She describes this as part of the chaos theory, which is one of the many times she displays her intelligence and thoughtfulness.

With the two broad concepts of what is life and moments in life, Everything, Everything goes from an entertaining Young Adult novel to a meaningful Young Adult novel that asks the same questions many of its readers contemplate.  I think Everything, Everything gives readers a lot to think about on those subjects and presents them in manageable ways.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Everything, Everything.  It had the elements of most popular Young Adult Fiction, but was, in my opinion, more interesting and valuable because of the questions and thoughts it provoked.

-M.R. Gavin

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