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

On Writing by Stephen King

Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis: Best selling author Stephen King reveals some of his practices on good writing to help aspiring writers develop their toolbox.  He also tells stories of his life and their influence on his development as a writer.

Reflection:

On Writing by Stephen King is a combination memoir and how to writing book. Throughout the book King references many of his life experiences and how they led him to writing or impacted his writing practice. He also provides tips of the trade and a few things he found essential to the growth and development of his writing.
It was the tips that I found most interesting and most insightful into King’s life and writing process. Part of the reason I wanted to read On Writing was to see how King got started and what sort of routine he had for writing. Through anecdotal stories, he maintains his usual conversational tone, write in an easy to read fashion, and had me laughing out loud several times from both his antics and his commentary.
In the book, King takes a whole section to discuss the importance reading has to an author. He says the two most important things you can do to help yourself as a writer are: read all the time and write. While I have always been an active reader, I never listened to audiobooks. King suggested them for car rides. I recently took that suggestion and have been listening to audiobooks in the car and while walking my dogs. I think it is a great way to read some of the classics, which for me are often hard to focus on, plus many classics are in the public domain and free to listen to.
Another great tip from King it to write first with the door closed, then later with the door open. For him, he first opens his door to his “ideal reader” – his wife – and then to other friends. Finding your ideal reader is important to developing a story and to receiving valuable feedback. As the book progresses, he gives more specific tips and examples for the physical art and craft of writing; like: editing, avoiding adverbs, and having too many pronouns. He often tied each suggestion to a story in his life that taught it to him.
Finally, one of the things I found most interesting about On Writing is how it shows King’s writing process in action. The book took him years to write due to other novels, stories, and life interruptions. However, he makes it clear how essential writing is to his daily life, well-being, and happiness. I hope to put some of his suggestions to the test as I continue to develop my own writing.

-M.R. Gavin

“Enlighten Me”

Elixir (The Daily Post)

On the morning of his birth, The Creator pulled him off the highest shelf in a room with a mirage of shelves and cases in every direction.  As The Creator gentle wrapped his hands around him, he whispered, “Today is your day, my love. Burn bright, choose wisely, and when you return, enlighten me.”

He walked the glimmer into a hall of a million doors, carefully turned a crystal knob embellished with gold, and entered a perfectly square room.  The room, lined with cluttered shelves on each of the four walls, had a solitary wooden table in the center.  The table was empty, until The Creator set the bulb he held in his hand in its center.  He looked at The Creator knowing that today would be his birthday, but unaware of what would happen next.  The Creator chuckled, “Ask me what you will, child, but know I have other children to set on their way.”

Looking up at his creator in awe, he had a million questions.  Ones he had thought of during his infinite span on the highest shelf; dozens more arrived on their walk from the shelf to this tiny room.  “I believe I will be born today, but I have never heard of this room.  What am I to do here?  Wait?”

“This space is far more than a waiting room.  Here is were you will build your personal elixir before entering life.  As you can see the shelves are full.  Take what you believe is important and will provide you with a good life.”

“Why did you say ‘when you return, enlighten me’?  I am but the spark of a man.  What could I possibly return with which you do not already have or know?”

“While I am The Creator, I do not create the life experiences you are about to have.  You do that, in part, through the elixir you create.  Although my shelves seem full, there is always room for more vital life components.  You shall see.”

He glanced around the walls eyeing the most unusual assortment of items, wondering what there could possibly be to add.  Even as he thought it, a new object appeared before his eyes: a black rectangle that began ringing, dinging, and vibrating  intensely.  Turning back to The Creator, he found he was nearly to the door.

“That is all we have time for now.  Child, have a safe journey, choose your elixir wisely.  When satisfied, bath in it and you will be awoken to a new life.”  With that, The Creator slipped out of the same door they entered, returning to get a new glimmer ready for her birthday.

Completely alone for the first time, since the start of the universe, he floated around the room examining the items that could make up his elixir and searching for a bowl to contain it.  As he floated around a bowl appeared – large enough for him to swim in.  He quickly found essence of love, and immediately picked it up.  Even among  the infinite sparks like himself, love was known to be a binding factor in life.  Without it he would forget the love of The Creator and would never find or give love in his soon-to-be life.

Other than love, he knew little else of the world he was about to enter.  He wandered around contemplating what else to use.  During his endless days on the shelf he had imagined himself in a million ways, but he tried to remember the key elements of each.  He selected a hammer for power and tossed into the bowl, a barbell for strength, glasses for intelligence, clasped hands for friendship.  He picked up a trumpet for musicality, gold for wealth, and a pillow for comfort.  Avoiding anything remotely negative, he built his elixir into a beautiful mixture of goodness and items which he hoped would guided him in life.

When it was complete, it swirled golden in its bowl with a shimmering, silver mist hovering above it.  Taking one last float around the room, he was quite satisfied with his life’s elixir, and shouted a “Thank you!” to The Creator as he dived into the bowl head first ready for the life he had been given.  The Creator watched all this, as he watched every glimmer, with a knowing grin playing on his lips.

The spark was born into the world, grew, became intelligent, strong, wealthy, and powerful.  He knew love and warmly gave it to those around him, who loved him in return.  He lead a comfortable life, but like all lives do, one day after many years, it ended.  He had forgotten about the mixing room, the hall of million doors, the room with endless shelves, but as his life ended he began to remember.

“…and when you return enlighten me,” he heard being whispered.  It was his turn to teach The Creator, to add to the mixing rooms.  Opening his eyes, he found himself sitting across from The Creator, just two old men of more or less equal build looking at one another as old friends.

“Creator,” he sighed, “It is good to see you again.”

“My child, I saw you everyday,” The Creator chuckled, “what a wonderful life you had!”

“Indeed it was.”

“And what will you enlighten me with now that it is passed, so others may include it in their elixir?”  The Creator continue, always straight to the point.

“I believe, sir, that my life was good, and pleasant, and full.  But with my money, and power, and strength, I was constantly on the go, moving endlessly, working endlessly, never stopping.  Yes, I had love, but sometimes I would hear others talk of things, simple things: a walk, a rose, the rain, a book, the wind, and although I knew of these things I never noticed them – never had the time to.  I would like you to consider adding a pause button to each mixing room, to allow sparks to be whatever they desire in life, but to ensure they take moments to pause and enjoy the small things.  I certainly would have liked that in my elixir.”

The Creator nodded and smiled, as the men’s eyes met again, a pause button appeared in the millions of mixing rooms where glimmers created their own life’s elixir.

Childhood

1. Describe an important item from your childhood.  Why was it important and where is it now?   (Ryan Andrew Kinder, 1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts)

The single most important material item from my childhood would have to be my teddy bear.  While my response is not very unique, my teddy bear certainly was.

I was three years old, Christmas was approaching and for the first time, I was really starting to understand what Christmas meant – Santa, presents, cookies.  As most parents do, mine asked me, “What do you want Santa to bring you?”  Consistently, I replied, “I want a yellow teddy bear that jingles!”  In my head, I imagined a large fluffy yellow bear – about half the size of my three year old self – that had a jingle bell sound whenever he moved. Perhaps I was being difficult and testing the truth of Santa, maybe I was combining some of my favorite things: Winnie the Pooh and music.  Whatever was behind my desire, I knew with certainty it would be under the tree on Christmas.

Needless to say, Santa came through.  I opened a pastel yellow teddy bear – slightly smaller than I imagined – with the softest fur  I had ever touched, and a jingle sound from its belly.  He stayed under my arm all day.  Getting ready for bed, my dad turned to ask me what my teddy bear would be named.  I looked at him, looked at my bear, and said the first thing that came to mind, Bear Bear; the least creative name ever bestowed.

Bear Bear became my go to.  When I was sad, he got squeezed and covered in tears; when I was scared, I’d crawl under the covers clutching him in my arms.  I could not sleep without him for years.  He was at the top of my emergency run away list; if there was a fire, he was the first item I would grab.  Bear Bear went on every weekend trip to Grams’, every vacation, and even went to college with me.

He is currently in my guest room, where he matches perfectly with the yellow and gray decor. Unfortunately, he is tucked into a drawer because I have two dogs who love to shred things.  His fur is not nearly as soft, having been washed dozens of times.  He sometimes has a more grey than yellow appearance.  Nonetheless, even 22 years after opening him, I still find him when I am upset and don’t want to talk to anyone, or when I am homesick.

What is an important item from your childhood?  Do you still have it?  I would love to hear about it!

-M.R. Gavin