I am personally not a fan of YA contemporary books, so my thoughts and review may be slightly biased, but of course, I have my reasons which will be discussed below.
Plot: The main character Madeline Whittier (Maddy) has been diagnosed with SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) or “bubble disease” since she was an infant and has been living with this disease for seventeen years. Her disease is rare and any contact with bacteria could result in severe illness or death. Therefore, Maddy stays in the sanitized comfort of her own home, never going outside. Due to SCID, the only human contact Maddy has received comes primarily from her mother and her nurse Carla. For seventeen years Maddy has been content with reading books and spending quality time with her mother for daily activities until one day Olly, the new neighbor moves next door. The two begin communicating through their bedroom windows which then turns to emails and IM’s. In due time, the two form a relationship and the adventures begin.
If this sounds like a cheesy, complicated, yet interesting love story, you are right – to a certain extent.
“It’s your first time for everything, Maddy, but it’s not for me.”
As you can imagine, the relationship between Maddy and Olly is very interesting and slightly complicated. The girl has NEVER left her house and has not had any human contact besides her mother and her nurse (both of which are adults) and yet manages to form a semi-normal, platonic/romantic relationship with someone her own age. Technically, she’s had some practice (I guess) from watching movies and reading books, but it never really dawned on me how socially equipped she was when interacting with a peer (on and offline). From their designated chat hours to their timed in person visits, Maddy and Olly managed to form a bond that they both considered infinite: here’s where I find it questionable.
Over the course of a few months, Maddy and Olly’s relationship turns from platonic to romantic. So much so, that Olly states, “I’ve never felt about anybody the way I feel about you…” Maddy agrees that she too has never felt so strongly for another person (Literally: You would think her hormones would be way out of whack, not just a few butterflies). In response, Olly states that “It’s your first time for everything, Maddy, but it’s not for me”. In her defense, Maddy argues that although she’s experiencing love for the first time, her feelings are still real and valid, and I too agree.
Therefore, I do not question the quickness of their love, (one, because it’s a YA novel, and two, because I believe love has no time limit). What I do question is Maddy’s idea of love within her circumstance. Since she has never been exposed to the physical world, but with Olly, got a glimpse of not only the physical world, but his own interpretation of it (plus she’s attracted to him) is this why she loves him? Because he was the first person to communicate with her and challenge her view of reality? Maddy does understand why Olly has these feelings and how she can very well, love him by default. Although she brushes the thought away, Olly does make a valid point. What if her former neighbor never moved? (if you read the book, you know why I ask).
“Isn’t growing apart a part of growing up? Don’t I get to have even this bit of normalcy?”
Since Maddy has been communicating and having contact with Olly, she has obviously been keeping this secret from her mother. The amount of love and respect she has for her mother makes doing this uncomfortable, but like most teenagers, keeping secrets, growing distant from parents, and being a little rebellious is expected: “Isn’t growing apart a part of growing up? Don’t I get to have even this bit of normalcy”? Maddy’s wittiness in being secretive was applauded by most of the reviews I saw, however, I cannot get over a VERY noticeable secret: the Freedom Card. What isolated eighteen year old knows the protocol for and gets approved for a credit card? Also, this very well thought out planned tripped to Hawaii? I’m not buying it and quite honestly, neither should have Maddy.
“The greatest risk is not taking one”
***HUGE SPOILER ALERT***: MADDY DOES NOT HAVE SCID.
Less than half way through the book, I annoyingly thought this could be the case once Carla mentioned to Maddy that her mother “missed” her and was “lonely” without her (Once again, the girl never leaves the house. She can’t be missed). Once her mother gave Maddy a photograph of the family (Maddy, her mother, and her father and brother who passed away in a car accident) I figured her mother lied about her disease in order to protect the only family she had left. What I was not expecting was for Maddy to find out that she was indeed sick as an infant, however, her mother went overboard with the diagnosis.
So, since Maddy was never exposed to bacteria or toxins and now has an underdeveloped immune system, technically, she has the potential of becoming sick (but of course she does not because it will ruin the love story between her and Olly) plus, it does not stop her from reconnecting with him. And so, the greatest risk is not taking one. Had she not decided to leave her home, she would have never began living. It is this quote that has caused so many reviewers to love this book and honor Maddy’s bravery. However, I feel most reviewers gloss over a side factor regarding risk taking: when taking risks, especially for one’s own happiness, you may hurt the one’s you love. This is obviously prevalent among Maddy and her relationship with her mother (although not discussed in this post, it is prevalent within Olly’s family, and is briefly discussed by Carla). And this reason is why I give the book 4/5 stars (plus I really enjoyed the short chapters, straight to the point messages, and the illustrations). I loved how Yoon was able to portray the complexity and annoyance of wanting to feel safe and comfortable within familiar settings, but how willing to take the risk of figuring out who you are and what you want and need is worthwhile.
So yes, I would consider “Everything Everything” a cheesy, complicated, yet interesting love story. But, to a certain extent, there is a deeper meaning I think all readers could benefit from. To hear my review, please watch my video below.