Anyone looking for a typical medi-romance-drama is not going to find it in Nicola Yoon’s debut novel Everything Everything. It has none of the hallmarks: there are no hospitals, no doctors, no complicated medical talk. ER drama is not this book’s main currency. Maddy has accepted her lot in life as a bubble baby (ICSD), living inside an airtight house with her mother and her nurse. Going outside will kill her. She has come to terms with her life, that is until Olly moves in next door. Soon, she’s taking bigger and bigger risks, not content to live her life wrapped in plastic any more.
Parents are a rare creature in teen fiction. For obvious reasons they would get in the way of most plots if they were insisting on family dinners, and telling the MC to brush their teeth and go to bed. Everything Everything features Maddy’s mother prominently for a pleasant change. Maddy has to wrestle with her desire to remain close with her mother and her need to make her own decisions, a conflict that is pretty much the hallmark of growing up but is rarely given a lot of air time. It gives a highly relatable rock and a hard place because you can sympathize with both Maddy and her mother, but you also feel that gut-wrenching sense of being caged. It makes you wonder why more books don’t feature more parent-child relationships when it is so instantly relatable.
My one criticism is that this book tries so hard to be optimistic. Despite her illness Maddy is a very upbeat character but, without any spoilers, she goes through things that could really mess up even the most optimistic of people. And while Maddy is struggling to deal with her experiences, the upbeat tone seems to gloss over her struggles in an effort to stay positive. A bitter-sweet ending that took the time to highlight Maddy’s loss/gain situation would have not only done the narrative justice but given it a powerful resonance.
Here there be (some) Spoilers
Everything Everything is surprisingly light on detail of the disease on which the entire plot hinges. ICSD keeps Maddy isolated her entire life, but apart from a brief FYI we hear nothing else about the disease. This would be understandable if she had a more common illness, but I had no idea that ICSD was an actual thing until I picked up this book. I needed context! Yoon gives us nothing on the history, effects, potential treatment or lack thereof of ICSD (and it is somewhat treatable). Nothing. If you compare it to any other medi-drama – TFIOS for example – there is a wealth of information about why Hazel’s body is failing her, along with a history of close calls.
And that is what tipped me off to the twist. Yoon’s eschewing of the usual medi-drama style was a clever move. By not giving the reader the details they expect, we’re thrown off balance but it’s really hard to pinpoint why. After all it’s harder to pick up on what’s not there.
I found myself guessing that Maddy has some misdiagnosed allergy which is now detectable. There is no way Maddy could be doomed to spend her life in a bubble when I barely even understand her illness. It turns out that I was dead on, but the answer was so much better than a simple misdiagnoses. The answer pushed the book right out of its medi-drama genre and kept me thinking about it long after I finished the last page.
Here there be (more) Spoilers
Back to my one criticism. Maddy has to rethink her entire life. Her entire relationship with her mother – the relationship that was 50% of all meaningful relationships she had in her life up until she met Olly – has now been severely damaged. How (and if) that relationship gets repaired is not going to be easy, despite what some characters seems to think. Maddy’s entire childhood and formative years have been stolen from her. She
is should be missing an entire set of social skills that comes from playing with other kids. She missed out on so many opportunities. Her health is now damaged, possibly for the rest of her life. These are not small losses, and how Maddy deals with them are could have been a big and important part of the story. The story ended on such a positive note that I don’t feel like enough gravity was given to what she lost and that her character growth was stunted in the end to make for a positive ending.