To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.
But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?
This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.
However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.
Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.
Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.
In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.
Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.
Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!
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