Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Comments: 25

Article

Content

I wanted to like Everything, Everything. I really and truly did. It portrayed likable people being likable among nice illustrations and some clever framing devices like school assignments on kissing. It portrayed a biracial heroine whose race is incidental—her parents were just nice people who met, fell in love, married, and had children, though her father and brother were tragically killed when she was just a baby. While books portraying the struggles of biracial characters are important, sometimes it’s nice to read about a character whose heritage isn’t glossed over, but is also not the main focus of the narrative.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING at GoodreadsBut I’m not reviewing the book from the lens of whether the book was an enjoyable read or the characters were likable or even whether it was a positive portrayal of a biracial protagonist. I’m reviewing it from a lens of whether it was a positive, realistic portrayal of disability. And the answer to that is a thudding “No.”

For my credentials, I do not suffer from SCID, like the book’s protagonist Maddy does. SCID stands for Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, a genetic defect of the T- and B-lymphocyte systems that leaves the sufferer extremely susceptible to infectious disease and allergens. The most common treatment at this time is a bone marrow transplant, with “bubbles” of filtered air, sterilization procedures, and isolation being common before donors can be matched.

I myself suffer from severe allergies—one anaphylactic airborne allergy, three anaphylactic ingestion allergies, two ingestion allergies which cause swelling of the face and tongue (currently considered “severe,” may upgrade to anaphylactic if exposed again), two mild airborne allergies, and one ingestion allergy of currently unknown severity. So, I do understand having to be very, very careful in new environments, while Maddy avoids that problem by never going past her front door. I have to read ingredient labels carefully, wear a filtration mask out in public, and keep a comprehensive list of medication allergies on my person at all times, as well as two EpiPens and a bottle of liquid Benadryl. I at first felt a lot of sympathy for Maddy, spending most of her time inside in a controlled environment, carefully checking for allergens. And like me, she attends school online (high school vs. graduate school, but all the same). Hurrah, I thought. The disabled heroine has ambitions. She doesn’t just generically like to read, she writes clever little reviews of the books she’s reading. She involves herself in her books. She is interested in architecture. She doesn’t really seem to have a life plan for a from-home career, though, which is what gave me my first inklings that something was off.

Maddy’s world is turned upside-down by the arrival of the handsome boy next door, Olly. She watches him through the window. He notices, and performs charming, adorable pantomime theater for her. They begin to IM. He assumes she’s grounded. She takes a while to tell him about her condition, out of shame—which I’ve never felt, but, then again, I’m a different person. Who am I to say some people don’t feel ashamed of their wonky immune systems? They flirt, they persuade the home nurse to let him inside, they deal with the no touching policy, they break the no touching policy, they elope to Hawaii …

And that’s where the major flaw of this novel comes in. Not only does it trot out the tired old chestnut of “You aren’t living with disability unless you LIVE! Throw caution to the wind, stop caring for your ailment, and accept mortality, or else you’re just existing!”, but in the end, the book is not about disability. Major spoiler alert:

 

 

The book is about child abuse. Maddy does not have SCID. Instead, her mother seems to have a bizarre, overprotective form of Munchausen’s by Proxy, which is officially diagnosed as paranoid PTSD. This is contrasted to Olly’s father’s more traditional get-drunk-knock-the-family-around form of abuse, but it’s still what the book is about. Her mother comes across as sweet and loving at the beginning of the book, making time to spend with her teenage daughter, sharing family jokes, doing what she can to make life as happy as possible for a girl whose body keeps her under house arrest—but as soon as the Olly plot really kicks in, she begins showing frayed edges when she fears she might lose her baby girl. This deteriorating mental state seems like another kick in the pants to the respectful, sensitive narrative the author was crafting at the beginning, and made me feel more disappointed than I would have felt in a book that hadn’t started so promisingly.

The eventual happy ending is: Yay, Maddy, that nice young lady, is not in fact disabled, she just has a weakened immune system from her mother’s abuse of keeping her locked in a bubble house for eighteen years in response to her father and brother’s traumatic deaths in a car crash. A few years of gentle exposure to diseases and allergens, and she’ll be right as rain. I nearly threw the book when I read that. The nice young couple doesn’t have to deal with work-arounds like filter masks or gloves or pill schedules or signing up for the marrow waiting list. They just need to be extra careful during flu season, while Mom needs some intensive therapy.

And there is the ableist narrative in all its horrible glory: you can’t have a happy ending if you’re still disabled. Happy endings and true love come to the well-bodied. I suppose it was a nice bone to throw that Olly loved Maddy even when he thought everything could kill her (in which case it’s stunning that they had sex with regular condoms—latex is such a common allergy that you’d think she’d mention specifically getting hypoallergenic ones just in case), but the happy ending is still “Nope, not really disabled, just a victim of a traumatized mother, whose PTSD made her too overprotective to let me out of the house!” So much for earning your happy ending.

I’d give it three stars out of four for the opening, and one star out of four for the closing, averaging two stars in total. It’s still a nice book about nice people, but it’s a deeply problematic narrative. Disability is not just a romantic hurdle to get over, nor is it a guarantee of bad parenting. Characters with disabilities get little enough representation, and when a disability that could conceivably work against the love and sex life of a disabled character happens, it feels rather insulting to not show any work towards those issues that real disabled people might face, instead hand-waving away all their issues for the happy ending. Especially a happy ending that comes at the expense of scapegoating another disability.



About Author

Jennifer J. Johnson

Jennifer J. Johnson is an online student at Southern New Hampshire University, working on a Masters in English and Creative Writing. She primarily exists as a recluse and cat lady-in-training, but leads a full life with the advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Her hobbies revolve around science fiction, petting cute animals, finding historical inaccuracies in fiction, and learning to spell all the conditions that parental exposure to Agent Orange are linked to. Jennifer is currently trying to watch every film on the National Film Registry and to write a children's book about living with severe airborne allergies.

Share


25 Comments

  1. YES TO THIS ONE THOUSAND TIMES. I sort of saw “the twist” coming because, you know, I’ve read 100000 books and seen 100000 movies so. (also when they make it all the way to Hawaii and to having “adventures” – nope. Not SCID.) But seeing the twist coming wasn’t the problem (also most teen readers won’t so there’s that) it was everything you mentioned here.

    We have SO FEW books about teens with chronic illness that to have one be like BUT NOT REALLY WHEW was a let-down. I mean not every book has to be every thing but it’s still a let-down.

    And the “it wasn’t real!” tanked the plot, IMO. Besides taking away an actually chronically ill protagonist who is smart and funny and has ambitions it tanked the believablity of the story in every way. No one notices that her mother, an apparently successful physician because she must have some cash to keep this going at this level, is pulling off this elaborate abuse? Literally no doctor no case worker no ANYONE? A kid with this kind of rare disorder WOULD be on people’s radars so the idea that they are just living there unnoticed or never checked on by anyone? Nope. Because it for SURE abuse and that’s a thing I think the book REALLY winces from. It gets kind of bittersweet and “well who knows if I can ever forgive you!” Forgive her?! Why is that on the victim? Even if it is her mother? She should have her medical license revoked! She tortured you, psychologically and physically for years, and it’s because she has a mental illness (which…no) so how mad should we be? That just really upset me as a reader. And it made me think – if this was a father keeping a daughter locked up and telling her there were demons outside to end the world … well we wouldn’t be having the same conversation.

    ANYWAY thank you for this piece – and thank you for also talking about the “when you forget your disability you can really live!” element. Ugh. She was ‘really living’ the whole time – that’s the point and the book gets that so right before the Hawaii jaunt. She has interests, she likes movies and design, she likes to flirt, she longs to connect – she needn’t disregard her disability for all that to be true.

    THIS SITE IS THE BEST. Thank you for existing.

  2. Holy CRAP, that has gotta be the exact opposite of how to write a narrative about disability — using one to tear down the other. Entirely a lose-lose situation; glad I didn’t pick this one up.

  3. Pingback: YA Got Mail! Our weekly link round-up. (September 5) - YA Interrobang

  4. Pingback: Rich in Color | Review: Everything, Everything

  5. Pingback: Review: Everything, Everything | Gun In Act One

  6. Pingback: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon | Consumed by Ink

  7. Thank you for sharing your honest opinion. I was starting to feel like I was the only one who really enjoyed the beginning and wanted to throw the end into a wood chipper. I still can’t even decide on an honest rating on goodreads because I feel like rather than it being a twist, it was a cop-out. A sick and twisted cop-out.

  8. Thank you! I absolutely hated what the author did with this book, and I’m so glad to find a review that sees it the same way.

    I have MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome), so when people ask what I’m allergic to, I just tell them “Everything.” Like you, I have to wear my filtered mask in every store and most crowds, carry Epi-pens and compounded benadryl, and bring safe food and water everywhere I go. I take a ton of antihistamines just so I can leave my apartment and go to work, and my MCAS is relatively mild compared to many people I know.

    So I was really looking forward to reading this book, and then it was a huge letdown. I knew she didn’t really have allergies as soon as she got into someone’s car without a mask on, and I was even more convinced when she rode on an airplane (full of people!) and didn’t have a reaction. Even with my mask and meds, I need to chug benadryl to get through a plane ride.

    But the worst part for me is that, with autoimmune diseases, people assume all of the time that it’s just “in our heads.” I know so many people in my allergy and MCAS support groups whose own families accuse them of making up their allergies or making up the allergies their children have. This is a life-threatening problem, and it is pervasive in our society, for some reason, and books like this perpetuate the myth.

    So disappointing.

    If you do happen upon some good autoimmune disease books, I’d love for you to pass them on. I need more for myself and to buy for my libraries.

  9. Pingback: Top Ten Books to Start a Junior High Classroom Library (Plus Ten More) - Ethical ELA

  10. Pingback: Top Ten Books to Start a Classroom Library (Plus Ten More) - Ethical ELA

  11. Picked this book up because it was the first book ive ever seen that mentions scid. I was diagnosed with scid at 7 months old and thankfully to a successful bone marrow transplant i am no longer have any health problems. Liked the beginning and the quirky way it is written but the ending. The ending made me want to throw this book into the trash. I felt disgusted with how this book ended.

  12. Thank you for this review! As someone with a chronic illness that prevents me from leaving my home most of the time, I went through a very similar emotional journey with this book. First half: joy and pleasure at seeing a smart imaginative YA character with a chronic illness living with creativity and possibility and a burgeoning romance. Second half: frustration that I was listening to it on audiobook and therefore couldn’t set it on fire and throw it out the window when I reached the ending. Another version of the “it’s better to die than to live with a serious medical condition/disability” story. Along with the ever-present “disabled people can’t have mutually fulfilling romantic relationships/noble people with disabilities set the people who love them free” trope.

  13. Oh, NO. I thought this was a totally different sort of book. WTF. It’s now off my TBR list. So sad that it gets rid of her disability rather than showing how a successful, happy life can be lived with one. 🙁

  14. Pingback: ARC Review – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – freadom library

  15. Pingback: Everything Everything: there is just so much wrong with this book – Bookshelves & Paperbacks

  16. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for sharing your perspective in such a clear-cut manner. I absolutely think you’re right and you were spot on, when you mentioned how it depicts that a person can only have a happily ever after if they’re not disabled. I didn’t pick up on it when I first read it, but I’m glad I read your review.
    Geraldine @ Corralling Books

  17. Pingback: Everything, Everything – Taking a chance in Love. In the World. In Everything. | Word Wonders

  18. Pingback: Teen Talk: Chronically Ill Teens Exist, and We Want to See Our Stories - YA Interrobang

  19. I was intrigued by the trailer, but something felt off with the mother and so I went looking for information. I figured it was the “I must protect you at all costs” story from the vibes. Now I know to avoid this story. Thank you!

  20. Pingback: The Diversity Corner #1 : February News, Muslim Representation, and March New Releases | Sparkling Letters

  21. Pingback: Everything Everything – Where in the World is Leah Jane does Books!

  22. Pingback: Review: Everything, Everything – Colorful Book Reviews

  23. Pingback: Mini-Reviews: Netgalley Edition – spun

  24. Jennifer J Johnson on

    I’m glad this review seems to have touched so many people – especially with the movie coming out soon. My allergies have gotten more severe since writing this. I now have 12 official allergens, of which 8 are anaphylactic. I have a new airborne allergy (my allergy to bell peppers went from a severe ingestion allergy to an airborne anaphylactic allergy, at least if they’re being cooked or processed). I have a severe dystonic disorder. But I still finished grad school (with honors!) and I have an EMT-trained acupressurist boyfriend who works as my health advocate. It’s great dating a person who is willing to talk to doctors when you can’t, knows all of your pills and your pill schedule, brings you romantic gifts like ice packs, and takes you on dates to Physical Therapy and doctor’s offices (and sometimes takes me to cleared environments afterwards!).

    I wanted to read the story of a nice young couple dealing with one disabled and one able-bodied partner, without the disability being the entire narrative. I’m not very good with romance, but I think I’ll have to write it myself.

Leave A Reply