Saturday, January 23, 2016

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Eighteen year old Madeline Furukawa Whittier suffers from SCID, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency or what has been referred to as "bubble baby disease".  She's allergic to the world around her and must live in a germ free world. As a result, she hasn't left her home for the past seventeen years. Her mother, Pauline is a doctor and cares for her, along with her longtime nurse, Carla Flores.

Things change for Madeline when a new family moves in next door.  From her window Madeline sees a mother and father, a young girl and a tall, lean boy dressed all in black. Madeline watches the new family, discovering that while everyone has some kind of routine, the boy in black does not. As it turns out, his bedroom is directly opposite Madeline's. This means she can easily observe him and one thing she does notice is that he likes to climb out of his bedroom window and sit on the roof. She learns that his name is Olly, although his father calls him Oliver and that his younger sister is Kara. Madeline also notices that the father drinks alot and yells at the family.

Shortly after moving in, Olly comes to Madeline's home, bringing a Bundt cake as a gift. However, Madeline's mother must refuse the cake and doesn't offer an explanation. This of course, makes Olly very upset. But it also results in his father becoming enraged The father throws the cake at Olly, causing the plate to break but leaving the cake undamaged. Two days later, Madeline hears pings at her window and looks across to see the Bundt cake wearing googly eyes. Olly pushes the Bundt cake to its "death" and what follows is a series of evenings involving the cake recovering from its "jump", making another suicide attempt, on life support and finally "dying" as evidenced by Olly dressed for a funeral. Olly leaves his email contact on his window for Madeline and the two begin to talk, first via email and then by chat.

Eventually Madeline and Olly's friendship deepens and Madeline finds herself wanting to actually meet Olly, something she's not allowed to do because of her illness. However, after begging Carla to allow her to let Olly visit her inside her own home, Madeline and Olly do meet in the sunroom of her house after agreeing not to touch. Olly stays on the opposite side of the room. The meeting leaves Madeline thrilled because she really likes Olly, but she also feels conflicted for keep their meeting a secret from her mother.

After a week without any serious medical repercussions, Madeline and Olly meet again and Madeline is certain she's falling in love. She spends her nights instant messaging Olly leaving her tired and resulting in Madeline skipping movie nights with her mother. Olly reveals details about his family and how his father became abusive towards him and his mother. This leads to Maddy's mother noticing that she's changed and questioning Carla about those changes.Carla tells Maddy she can't keep seeing Olly, that he will eventually return to school and forget about her. But Madeline insists that she keep seeing him and promises to spend more time with her mother.

Olly and Madeline continue to meet, moving from touching one another to kissing. Still Madeline remains healthy. Things drastically change when one night Madeline and her mother witness a violent altercation between Olly and his father on the front lawn of their house. As Olly attempts to protect his mother from being assaulted, his father punches him in the stomach. Without thinking and to her mother's horror, Madeline races outside and intervenes, preventing Olly from being further assaulted. Madeline's mother realizes that Madeline intervened because Olly is no stranger. The repercussions of Madeline's actions are swift and devastating. Her mother discovers that she has been seeing Olly and fires Carla for her part in bringing the two together. Madeline loses her internet priviledeges and her mother takes a week off work to care for her while interviewing for a new nurse.

Although Madeline and Olly continue to communicate through their bedroom windows, Madeline becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her isolated existence. Three weeks later, Madeline makes a decision that sets in motion a chain of events that change her life forever.


Everything, Everything is part sick lit and part romance. Readers will probably quickly figure out the twist in the story early on partly because unlike the real "bubble baby", Madeline is not in total isolation. SCID is now curable if caught immediately after birth and many jurisdictions test newborns for this serious condition.

Everything, Everything's strongest theme is that of identity and self-determination. Madeline's entire existence is defined by her illness. Her life is a series of missed events driven home to her even more when she has her eighteenth birthday.
"Another whole year of being sick, no hope for a cure on the horizon. Another year of missing all the normal teenagery things -- learner's permit, first kiss, prom, first heartbreak, first fender bender...This year is a little harder than the previous. Maybe it's because I'm eighteen now...I should be leaving home, going off to college. My mom should be dreading empty-nest syndrome."

Meeting Olly for the first time results in Madeline thinking about her place in the universe, outside the confines of her home, and to acknowledge what she really wants. This is something she hasn't really allowed herself to do until this point.
"And it's not just Olly that I see. I keep picturing myself floating high about the earth. From the edge of space I can see the whole world all at once. My eyes don't have to stop at a wall or at a door. I can see the beginning and the end of time. I can see infinity from there.
For the first time in a long time, I want more than I have."

The loss of Olly after their relationship is discovered by her mother results in Madeline's perspective on her life gradually changing. Although she describes herself as "two Maddys", in reality Madeline is growing up and beginning to make her own decisions about the risks she will take and how she wants to live her life. "Ever since Olly came into my life there've been two Maddys: the one who lives through books and doesn't want to die, and the one who lives and suspects that death will be a small price to pay for it... The second Maddy knows that this pale half life is not really living."

Her decision to travel to Hawaii with Olly leaves Madeline conflicted but not enough to cause her to not follow through on her plan. The trip opens her to new experiences - travelling in a car and a plane, wearing a swimsuit for the first time and going to the beach, snorkeling.

Madeline meets Zachariah, Olly's gay friend who wants to be an artist,  but who won't tell his parents because he knows they would make him choose. He wonders perhaps if "Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love." At this time it something Madeline doesn't really have an answer for but will eventually come to understand.

After recovering from her illness on Hawaii, Madeline comes to discover the truth about her situation. Yoon does a great job of chronicling Madeline's journey towards forgiving her mother for what she has done. The novel doesn't become bogged down in details but shows Madeline taking the initiative to discover the truth about her health, confronting her mother and beginning to set boundaries while still living at home. Although Madeline will never know "the moment that set my life on this path", she learns to forgive her mother, understanding that what she did was out of love. Unlike her mother who tried to protect her from the "dangers" of life, Madeline accepts that life and living have its risks. "But anything can happen at any time. Safety is not everything. There's more to life than being alive."

Despite the serious subject matter, Yoon never lets it overwhelm her story. The episode involving the Bundt cake is quite funny and well written. And over Madeline's serious illness is a sweet coming of age story that involves two lonely teens struggling to deal with serious issues. Olly, the caring boy whom Madeline falls for, is a believable character with real life problems who unwittingly motivates Madeline to risk all in order to live more fully.

Readers interested in something a bit different with a touch of humour will enjoy Everything, Everything.

Book Details:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Toronto: Doubleday Canada     2015
306 pp.

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