I read Nicola Yoon’s new release The Sun is Also a Star early this year, and could hardly wait to get my hands on her other contemporary YA novel, Everything, Everything. I made this my YA contemporary of the month (although I also picked up another one after I finished this one), and finished the whole book in one sitting. Here’s why:
About the book: Madeline’s doctor says she’s allergic. To everything. She’s homeschooled via Skype so that she never has to leave the heavily-filtered air of her home or come into contact with anyone who might present a trigger for her life-threatening allergies. She’s close with her mom, and the nurse who checks her vitals every other hour; that’s all the companionship she needs. Madeline is content to live vicariously through her books and interact with the world only through the Internet–at least until new neighbors move into the house next door and she sees Olly Bright through her window. It’s not love at first sight, but she’s definitely intrigued, moreso when he and his sister try to bring a neighborly cake to her house that Madeline and her mom can’t accept, and then immensely moreso when he starts using his bedroom window as a stage for cake jokes and messages that only Madeline can see. A visit is arranged. It turns out that Olly has a danger in his life, too, that prompts that two to look out for each other. There will come a time, though, when both characters need to make the tough choices about how much their safety means to them, and how much they’ll risk to be together.
“Everything is a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.”
In addition to the interesting content, the layout of this book is pretty unique. It’s all told through one perspective, unlike Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, but it feels more like a journal/scrapbook informal mishmash of all sorts of details and extras. Many of the “chapters” are incredibly short, each one has an aptly-named header, and they’re mixed in with images that are not only pleasing to the eye but in some cases essential to the story. That’s my favorite possibility of images in a novel–when they’re integrated so well that the images help tell the story. Every piece of this book–both the images and the brief chapters–is so small that it’s hard to quit at any point; I kept wanting one more section, one more picture, and then before I knew it I’d reached the last page.
“Wanting just leads to more wanting. There’s no end to desire.”
That said, I was still left wanting more by the time I did reach the end, and not necessarily in a good way. The last fifty pages or so contained so much of the story condensed into a comparatively small space. It didn’t feel rushed to me as I was reading, but I could hardly believe I’d reached the end and hadn’t seen more detail on certain aspects or received more answers about the big questions that arose at the end. The bare essentials are there–but the story would’ve been richer with about fifty more pages of exploration into the major change introduced at the end.
“The world is casually cruel.”
I had some issues with some of the characters at first, and some of the things they did (I would’ve fired someone who was helping my daughter see a boy I didn’t approve of too), but by the time I reached the end everything made sense. While I didn’t agree with everyone’s choices (Madeline’s mom was unforgivably selfish, in my opinion), they were understandable. The writing was compelling and beautiful enough that even when I didn’t agree I had no trouble continuing on to see what would happen next. There’s some beautiful commentary in this book about taking chances and falling in love, and dealing with things out of one’s control. I felt like Yoon hadn’t quite hit her perfect writing stride yet in either of her two published works so far, but her writing feels so close to incredible that I know her best book must be on the near horizon. There are great ideas and gorgeous writing in both of her books so far, and I can only imagine she’ll keep getting even better with time.
“Time moves in both directions–forward and backward–and what happens here and now changes them both.”
A digression: How many people read the extras in books? I’m talking about the author’s notes and acknowledgements and appendices and bio and whatever else might be packed into the front or back in addition to the story. I usually read (or at least skim, depending on my interest level in the book) everything except the sneak-peek at the next book chapters. Usually there’s just a list of names and sources and college degrees and the same things that every author includes, but sometimes, as with Everything, Everything, there’s a little extra nugget of appreciation for the reader.
“You are truly a thorough reader if you’re here with me in the acknowledgments, and as a truly thorough reader of books (and their acknowledgments), you know that books do not spring wholly formed from the addled minds of their authors.”
Personally, I love it when authors take even just a sentence or two in those extra spaces to tip their metaphorical hats to their readers and admit that they too, as writers, are fallible. Those are the moments I feel like I could be a writer, too. Anyone else search the extras for evidence that the author is just a struggling human like the rest of us?
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. When I started this book, I thought it would be cheesy and predictable, but that’s not what I found inside. At first I was just planning to read 100 pages the first day, but I reached that mark and decided to read half the book. I wasn’t ready to stop then either and set another marker for myself, and then another… I liked it even more than The Sun is Also a Star, which I think is a rare opinion. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever Nicola Yoon might be publishing next.
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is another against-all-odds (YA contemporary) romance with plucky characters and hard topics mixed into the cute possibilities of kindred souls sticking together despite the obstacles.
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a great choice for YA readers who like a little tragedy mixed in with the romance. This one is definitely harder-hitting, and thus, in my opinion, more powerful, but it still has some great messages about dealing with grief and death from several angles.
What’s next: I’ve finished Jane Eyre now and am contemplating sharing some thoughts on it with you even though I don’t normally post full reviews of classics. It was just that darn interesting. But I’m still undecided about what sort of form that might take and whether it will happen outside of my monthly wrap-up. More certainly, I have also recently finished reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, yet another YA contemporary novel (I’ve been in a crazy mood for them lately) and will be posting a review of that book shortly. This one’s about a pair of twins dealing with grief and difficult love and so, so much art.
The Literary Elephant