I keep picturing myself floating high above the earth. From the edge of space, I can see the whole world all at once…
If it’s not apparent by now, I am not one to research what books I will be reading next. Enticed by a colourful cover and intriguing synopsis, I purchased a copy of Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything Everything. I had no clue this is a movie. In fact, I was under the impression Everything Everything fell into the category of non-fiction.
My mother saw it on the kitchen table, informing me she heard about it on a morning talk-show at some point. Not the book but the movie, which inspired a confusing exchange of words between us as I was adamant it was a memoir. You’re confused, mother.
In no way, shape, or form am I the target audience for something like Everything Everything. But I have a nondiscriminatory policy when it comes to books. I don’t pass on a book if it might not be “my taste” because I believe, truly, that when it comes to reading, taste develops over time. Much like beer or wine or cheese (all of which I stick my tongue at because I refuse to try them). However, you can discover literary gems anywhere—hence an open mind is necessary when reading.
I would never call Everything Everything a gem—but I enjoyed it.
When I was younger one of my favorite activities was imagininh alternate-universe versions of myself…
Of course, it’s when a boy moves in next door that everything changes for poor old Maddy—the girl allergic to the universe. Olly, the mysterious boy in black clothes with a perfect jawline and impeccable abs, convinces Maddy to escape the clutches of her disease (and Mother) and experience the world for the first time. Right—Maddy, with no clear future, has spent her formative years in a sealed house, home-schooled by her Mother.
Everything Everything could be considered a contemporary romantic fairy-tale. Think Romeo and Juliet. Or Cinderella. It is as if all the unknown forces of the universe work to keep the star-crossed lovers apart. Instead of societal structures or ancient customs pulling the Olly and Maddy apart, it is biological forces. Maddy can never sustain a “healthy” relationship with Olly because she is allergic to the biological matter that makes Olly. Indeed, Maddy is cursed with a rare, life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder: SCID.
Revitalizing the fairy-tale narrative, modernizing it if you will, is where Yoon’s novel is at its strongest. Yoon backs up her tale with crisp, tight writing. There is never a wasted metaphor that captures the angst and desperation of Maddy who takes in years of experiences in one single breath outside her home.
But the fairy-tale schema is both the novel’s doing and undoing.
It turns out that malign force separating this teenage love is not biology after all. Instead, it is the maternal bond and poorly portrayed mental illness. The mother, it turns out, is the villain—who is suffering from PTSD after the death of her husband. Her mental illness pushes her to diagnose Maddy with SCID, and thereby protect her from the many horrors of the world.
Yoon robs the mother of all her agency and any closure. Her mental illness becomes a plot device that never resolves, transforming her, from the novel’s vantage point, into the wicked mother of the west. I did not want to see Olly and Maddy reconcile in the end—I wanted to see the mother and daughter begin to repair their relationship.
Despite this poor depiction of mental health, I think we can extend the metaphor of the immune system or biology to describe the relationship between the Mother and Maddy. In the body, the Immune system protects the body from foreign agents such bacteria or molecules that would do harm. An overprotective Immune system, however, is one that does damage to the body it supposed to protect such as in the case of allergies. The emphasis on this immunodeficiency that affects Maddy becomes an allegory for the Mother’s own overprotective parenting. By denying Maddy access to everything—everything—the Mother does more harm to Maddy and her relationship with Maddy than good.
I read once that, on average, we replace the majority of our cells every seven years. Even more amazing: We change the upper layers of our skin every two weeks…In two weeks my skin will have no memory of Olly’s hand on mine…
Even though the novel clocks in at just over three hundred pages, it’s a quick read. Interspersed throughout are drawings, diagrams, and lists that emerge from Maddy’s imagination. As such, Everything Everything reads like a diary that was never meant to see the light of day.
I found the creative art a nice pacing mechanism, breaking up important plot points, and ultimately giving me time to reflect on the novel’s happenings. If you removed them all, however, you will find this is a rather thin novel.
This is a good book, then, for one of those too-early morning flights. You know—when you are at the airport before dawn. And the coffee shop isn’t even open yet. Somehow, you have to keep yourself occupied during the flight because, with the continued decreased in set width, you can’t exactly comfortably sleep the flight away.