Title: Everything Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre/Themes/Content Warnings: Contemporary YA, Romantic drama, Illness, Ableism, Ableist ending, Internalised ableism, Ableist portrayal of PTSD, Disability erasure
Blurb from Goodreads
My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, but basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in fifteen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives.
New next door neighbours.
I look out the window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black t-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. I want to learn everything about him, and I do. I learn that he is funny and fierce. I learn that his eyes are Atlantic Ocean-blue and that his vice is stealing silverware. I learn that when I talk to him, my whole world opens up, and I feel myself starting to change—starting to want things. To want out of my bubble. To want everything, everything the world has to offer.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
I read Everything Everything back in 2016 and simply put, I hated it. And here we are in 2021 and my feelings have not changed.
There’s so much about Nicola Yoon’s writing that I could easily love. She writes in a manner that is extremely accessible, her love stories are cute… I’m eyeing up her latest dancing-related release and wishing that she were a writer I could support because it sounds so cute…
And it’s a big ol’ but…
Everything Everything, her most famous novel, is extremely ableist. And it’s extremely hurtful and triggering to read if you are a person who is chronically ill.
‘Everything, Everything’ was initially adorable and sad and cute….…. BUT INCREDIBLY INSULTING AND FRUSTRATING BY THE END!!!!!
There will be untagged spoilers in this review because honestly, people need to know why this book sucks and why it shouldn’t be supported but if you are really opposed to spoilers then I suggest you skip this review and read the book for yourself and then come back and we will talk.
So, the protagonist Madeline [Maddy for short] she has SCID or Severe Combined Immunodeficiency disease. This disease means she has to live in essentially a bubble environment. The home she shares with her mum is a hermetically-sealed house with an incredibly scary sounding air lock as you enter it… And there’s a whole lot of medical tech that’s essentially acting to keep out all the bad stuff [random germs etc.] that could kill Maddy.
And pretty much anything could kill her. She has little to no immunity. She can’t go outside. Her life is indoors.
It’s incredibly moving and there’s the way she talks about this one photograph from when she was a tiny baby in her mother’s arms that really got me:
A photograph is a kind of Time Machine. My room fades away and I am on that beach surrounded by love and salt air … I fill my tiny lungs with as much air as they can take and I hold my breath. I have been holding it ever since.
Not gonna lie. I got emotional…
So Maddy lives in that isolated bubble house, with just her mum and her nurse for company. She gets tutored via skype, she is a voracious reader, she has game nights with her mum; she leads a pretty solitary existence that is a million miles away from anything most of us could even begin to imagine.
She says things like:
“If I were going to be something when I grew up”
…to not have hope of a future…
It’s just so upsetting to think about that mind set in one so young, And it’s even more upsetting when you’re someone like me who also has a chronic illness and felt that my life as a teenager was leading to nowhere. I mean I still feel that way as an adult but I have better coping mechanisms now.
Back to the book….
A cute boy moves next door. Olly. And suddenly Maddy’s world changes…
“If my life were a book and you read it backward nothing would change. Today is the same as yesterday. Tomorrow will be the same as today. In the ‘book of Maddy’ all the chapters are the same. Until Olly. Before him my life was a palindrome – the same forward and backward… But Olly’s like a random letter, the big bold X thrown in the middle of the word or phrase that ruins the sequence.”
And admittedly I really did enjoy the first two thirds or so of this book.
It was funny, it was sad, it was super cute in that fluffy YA sort of way. And it was thought provoking because of how it was nice to see a YA MC that I as a teenager would have been able to relate to….
And here is the big old but that I warned you was coming.
Towards the end of the book it got super insulting to those of us with chronic illness…
To start things off let’s go with the gentle negatives:
- the illness didn’t feel that well researched and life almost seemed too simple at times for Maddy (I would have liked to have a grittier depiction of a serious illness to give the book a little gravitas and not just be cute and fluffy all the time)
- there were a few minor spoilers about other classic books; Maddy is an avid reader and does these spoiler reviews that are interspersed throughout the text of the novel (I know this is pretty trivial but if you haven’t read all of them it does kinda ruin them a bit!!)
- Maddy and Olly have a wishy washy insta-love thing going on
- I would have liked a lot more character detail about Olly, about Carla and her sudden suspicions (some things were a little convenient)
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE PLOT AND ENDING
The character of Maddy was at times quite frustrating to read about especially when she was willing to risk death just to spend some good times with a boy next door….
This behaviour was incredibly reckless and both insulting and demeaning to those of us who live our lives tempered by chronic illness. This is because this reckless attitude to Maddy’s views about her life implied that her life with chronic illness was meaningless, worthless even. That living with a chronic illness and putting her health as a top priority was just a waste of her time.
And okay, Maddy is a teenager. And her home life was so isolating and potentially depressing due to that isolation and all the measures she had to take to stay alive. Therefore her throwing everything away for love could have been a great plot point with which to explore the ramifications of long term illness on mental health, and how people with chronic illnesses can have a very unhappy view of their bodies… but there was no such nuance. No such delve into her emotional state. It was just here’s a cute boy and I’ll just throw my life away so I can spend one *perfect day* with him…
AND IT GETS WORSE!!!!!!!!!!!!
Because here’s the real kicker…
In the end it turns out that Maddy was actually never sick. She never had SCID. It was all a lie that her mom made up (for attention, due to depression… that was never really explored either!)
BUT COME ON NICOLA YOON! Why did you have to do this?
This is disability erasure and is ENTIRELY ABLEIST.
The ending of Maddy suddenly not being sick and therefore getting to live her happy ever after love story with the boy next door is utterly insulting to people who have to live with life long chronic health conditions.
As someone with an incurable chronic illness and disabilities resulting from it I felt completely cheated when I read the ending. Cheated, insulted, disgusted, annoyed… and most of all incredibly upset. I picked up Everything Everything to read because of the chronic illness representation. I wanted to read a cute love story featuring a chronically ill character. I wanted to read something that was cute and fluffy, but also grounded in the realities of chronic illness and the difficulties that brings to falling in love.
When I read the ending of Everything Everything it felt like a slap in the face. I felt that a life story like mine was degraded. It was simply cheap and tacky to suddenly wipe away an illness just for the sake of a happy and tidy ending.
It would have been nice if for once there could be a YA book that focuses on a positive ending for those who do have to live every day with an incurable illness. Reading that ending was like having the bottom fall out of my world. I felt crushed!! It brought me back to the emotional turmoil that I went through as a very sick teenager.
It’s so hard to just be a teenager and try to figure out your place in this world and deal with all those confidence issues of growing up… But to have to deal with serious illness on top of that, illness that prevents you from being like all the other kids, that makes you have to grow up in a very different manner…
So the ending brought me right back to that point in my life. Luckily as I’ve said earlier, I’ve learned to live with my condition. I’m not always happy or content with my lot, I’m only human but I make the best of my life and I live it as fully as I can.
So why couldn’t this story have had some of that sentiment????????
How about an actual positive spin on being sick???
Did Nicola Yoon mean to say that the only happy ever after you can find in life as a person with a serious illness is to wake up one morning and have it magically disappear??? Because that’s the message I got.
People who live with chronic illnesses want their happy ever afters too but they don’t get to wake up one morning and suddenly have everything that has happened before in their lives wiped away.
I know you can say ‘but this is fiction’ but then don’t have the blurb proclaim that a book is about a teenager with a longterm incurable illness and then just conveniently poof it away in the end. This book was so disingenuous to every person living with an illness, disease and/or disability.
Also. Regarding Maddy’s mom. I just want to mention how lazy it was to portray a mental health issue in this manner too. Because Maddy’s mom’s storyline was woefully underdeveloped and her mental health struggles were used purely for dramatic purposes in a most degrading fashion. It painted her as a one dimensional villain for having genuine mental health struggles (most likely PTSD related), and again, just completely negated to show the nuance and suffering that goes hand in hand with the anxiety and fear that caused Maddy’s mom to act as she did.
This ableist book deserves to be binned. It irks me so much that since I read this book it has been made into a glossy teenage romantic drama. For once can we stop with the sick people fulfilling Hollywood’s inspirational porn fetish!
Do not recommend at all.