Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Press, 2015.
I don’t remember the last time I cried so hard at a novel. I don’t typically have legit cries when I read. Sometimes I get a bit misty-eyed, but seldom do I legitimately cry. Perhaps the last time was Deathly Hallows…in 2007.
I can’t talk about why this book hit me so hard without revealing a major spoiler. I HIGHLY suggest to only read the first part of this review IF you plan on EVER reading this book. The spoiler matters a lot, and reading this book knowing the ending will absolutely ruin it for you.
Everything, Everything is a story told from the perspective of 18-year-old Madeline, who suffers from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which means she has to stay inside all the time, in an air-filtered home, and has no human contact except for her mother and her nurse (people often refer to this disease as the bubble-boy disease). As you could imagine, this is not an easy life to lead, and when the cute boy next door moves in, Madeline’s life totally changes.
At first I thought Maddy was a very archetypal YA female protagonist with nothing much to distinguish her voice from other YA narrators. The descriptions of her falling for Olly (the aforementioned boy next door) are unoriginal and her personality bland. But as I continued to read, the story was so gripping that that didn’t matter to me by the end. It was a quick read because the chapters are short, and many of the chapters are graphic elements from Madeline’s journal or her IMs with Olly. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop reading this book. It’s definitely a page-turner.
Stop reading right now if you do not wish to be spoiled!
So it turns out Madeline doesn’t have SCID. WHA??????
What happened was this: a few months after Madeline was born, her father and brother died in a tragic car accident. Madeline was a very sick baby. She got viruses and infections and allergic reactions all the time, so her mother, a doctor herself, began investigating. Right around the time when her husband and son died, Maddy’s mom stumbled upon the possibility that she had SCID. But the ill person in this story doesn’t end up being Maddy; it’s her mother. The trauma from the accident was the start of her mother’s mental illness, which manifested itself in the delusion that Maddy had SCID and must be kept inside and protected at all times. 18 years later, Maddy finds out the truth.
The revelation happens towards the end of the book, at its climax. The 80% of the book leading up to this point does a great job developing the relationship between Madeline and her mother. They have a very close and loving relationship (which seems uncharacteristic for female teens), and considering her situation, it makes sense. Her mom and her nurse, Carla, are the only two people she has had physical contact with, so it’s important they have this bond. This makes it even more crushing for Maddy (and the reader) to learn that her mother stole the first 18 years of Maddy’s life from her. Some people did not like the twist at the end because they felt cheated or duped, or that it was unrealistic, or a cop-out. But I felt that it made perfect, 100% sense.
I don’t typically get personal on this blog, but I have to in this case. I once had someone I loved in my life who suffered from mental illness of a similar sort as Maddy’s mom. This person had delusions and hallucinations, and I didn’t find out until later in our relationship. I know what it feels like to realize what you know is a lie and then start to question everything else, too. This type of mental illness is not a cop-out plot device, it’s realistic. Maddy’s mom truly believed Maddy was sick. I began to suspect this was the case a few chapters before Maddy realized it, and this is when the crying started. And it continued on and off for the remaining 20% of the book.
I have a soft-spot for protective mother figures in fiction. One of my favorite movies of all time is Tangled, which features a fantastic example of over-protective parenting gone wrong. Mother Gothel is of course the “bad guy,” but there are lovely moments in the film where you actually see that there is love between her and Rapunzel. I love the bit when Rapunzel runs away and there’s a montage of her alternatively crying and being excited: excited that she finally escaped the tower, but guilty at how it would make her mom feel. This is exactly what Madeline goes through in the book as well, and it is so relate-able. I have a close and loving relationship with my mom, who is very protective (not saying my mom is as bad as Mother Gothel), and so when I see relationships like these portrayed, I always get the feels. So combine that with the mental illness bit, and you understand why this book hit me so hard.
And here is where I get to why I docked this book a star. After Madeline finds out the truth and time goes by, her relationship with her mother deteriorates. This is understandable. Maddy resents her mother for literally stealing her entire life away up to this point (not to mention her air-filtered existence has actually made Maddy’s immune system under-develop, so she is likely to get sick more anyway!). But in her resentment, there seems to be no scrap of forgiveness. In the end of the book, Maddy flies to NYC to see Olly, who has since moved away, so the love story ends all happily-ever-after…but that’s not the relationship I’m concerned about! The relationship I’m concerned about is Maddy and her mother! Where is the resolution there?? After all she’s been through, how can she have no scrap of compassion for her mother? We know Maddy is a compassionate person. How is there not even a mention of her mom in the last few chapters? Excuse me, WHAT!? I need to see the aftermath. I need to know that Maddy could forgive her mother and understand her mother and HELP HER MOTHER GET BETTER. It was SO uncharacteristic of Maddy and the book itself to have the last conversation between her and her mom be so hurtful. That is not Maddy. That is not this book. I loathed that part.
Perhaps it was the fact that the person I mentioned earlier is no longer in my life that made me hate this ending. Part of me wished I would have helped this person get better, but it was the best choice for my own health to stay away. But Maddy and her mom are different because they have a much more intimate and extreme situation. There needed to be more to their story.
So ultimately, a 4/5 star book, for all the feels and page-turning. But for a really crappy ending.