I’ve mentioned it before (somewhere) but after reading Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon I struggled to review it, and in the end I pretty much didn’t. There is no denying that I really wanted to, and I did try a good few times, but it just didn’t happen.
Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about my biggest thought on this book. The thought that never left me and made me want to review it so much at all. So, let’s talk about that today.
Before we continue, this post will spoil this book to shit. Be warned.
I need to start off by saying that I do not think that this is a bad book. It’s easy to get that impression when a piece focuses on a specific flaw of a piece of writing, but I read this book in two days (very rare for me, for various reasons which I won’t discuss here) and the second I put it down, I loved it. I instantly gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. However, I later thought about that decision and changed my rating. On my Goodreads, Everything, Everything is currently rated 4 stars.
I went back and forth. But apparently, it wasn’t too much of a problem for me. If I reread it now I have a feeling I would change it, but without actually rereading it that’s just a feeling.
If you don’t know, Everything, Everything is a book about a girl, Madeline, who is unable to leave her house due to her rare disease. She falls in love with Olly, the boy who moves in on her street, and things progress from there. And it’s interesting that I was so invested in this book, too, because it’s rare for me to pick up a book in which the main focus is romance.
This book was sweet, cute, charming. It gave me a connection to its protagonist and a connection to its romance. And often as a reader, I struggle to connect with romance at all. Which is why, as both a reader and a writer, I often avoid them. So kudos to this book.
But this book did have something which just … distracted me. Took me out of it. Robbed it of its arc, it’s conflict, and in turn its depth and its emotional heart.
This book has a twist. And oh, don’t you just love a twist? They’re either going to add a new depth to the story that you never saw before, or they’re going to end up with you going “Okay, but…” and never really being connected to the world of the story again.
I’m not criticising Everything, Everything when I say that it’s not breaking out of the mould of narrative structure. The overwhelming majority of stories don’t, and for good reason. It’s almost impossible to do so effectively. I’ve written metafiction. It is … not easy. No, with Everything, Everything we have something that sticks to the rules of narrative. When you’re doing so you can use them brilliantly, of course, but ultimately I don’t think that this book does.
The big twist of Everything, Everything is that Maddy doesn’t actually have the illness (SCID) that keeps her confined to her house. It turns out it was a lie concocted by her mother to keep her home and keep her safe, following the death of Maddy’s father and brother, as after these deaths Maddy got sick and Maddy’s mother was terrified.
Putting it simply, there are two problems with this twist. One, I think, is a much bigger problem than the other.
1. How does that even make any sense, though?
Okay, so the first thing that we have to keep in mind is that Maddy’s mother is a medical professional, which we’re to assume if how she was able to make up the story of Maddy having SCID and maintain it for so many years. This is the only way we can be sold even a little bit on the twist, because if she was a random woman then obviously there’s no way in hell this would ever work. Even Maddy’s nurse admits to suspecting that Maddy wasn’t sick, which we assume is why she was willing to let Olly in the house.
The problem is that this only goes so far. Yes, Maddy’s mother is a doctor, but Maddy also finds many articles about SCID and the like in her mother’s possession, so how much about SCID did she know? Not enough to diagnose, probably, and even if she did Maddy is still family. Ethics and shit are an issue. Plus, SCID is rare and a big fucking deal. You’d need a hell of a lot more than the word of a worried mother to secure a diagnosis like SCID.
My mother knows a hell of a lot about the area pertinent to my lovely brain (as in, autism and that) and so she could pretty much tell I was autistic. However, we did still actually have to find someone qualified to diagnose me as autistic to, you know, actually diagnose me. That’s how that works, folks.
That’s just the tip of that iceberg, too. I don’t want to analyse the probably definite underlying mental illness that Maddy’s mother probably definitely has (and the debate about whether or not she’s demonised for it) today.
Now, we obsessive people of the internet like to pick apart things that don’t make sense and why they don’t make sense, but ultimately I think that, compared to the second issue with this twist I’m going to discuss, this one is minor. And let’s get into why.
2. Life has to make narrative sense (in, you know, a narrative)
First of all, let me talk about why the first problem with the twist is less of a problem than the second. See, humans are essentially designed to create and understand narrative. We love a story. So, we’re forgiving to overlook certain things if the story is good enough.
If you’d like an example of this, take a look at Fight Club. If you actually take a step back to think about the mechanics of the twist, it’s kind of a “Wait, what the fuck?” sort of deal. But people love that story and they love what that twist added to that story. So, we let the small details slide like we let Batman slide out of his party to leave a bunch of people to die. The details of a narrative are so important that shows like The Good Place exploit our willingness to overlook small inconsistencies.
Life is really just a bunch of shit that happens and a lot of the time people’s choices don’t make any sense. It’s only when we look back on our lives that we make connections like, “And if I’d just bent down to tie my shoe, we’d never have met,” because that’s how our brains work. So, that’s why narrative has to work the way that it does. That’s how it makes connections.
Everything, Everything is a romance. You can see this in of the motivations of our protagonist, Maddy. Maddy wants to be with Olly; that is her goal. In that context, the disease keeping her in the house isn’t the main focus of the plot. Rather, it’s the primary obstacle keeping her from her goal, functionally making her mother an antagonist as she’s preventing Maddy from reaching her goal of being with Olly.
The twist in Everything, Everything does work on face value because it changes the way we look at all the events have happened before like a good twist is supposed to. But it changes them well only in the context of a different story. In the context of this story, upon revealing that Maddy isn’t actually sick all you’ve done is afforded her the ability to go outside. This takes away the biggest obstacle facing Maddy in the narrative. She can now go and be with her love interest. There is absolutely nothing stopping her.
See, for a story to be compelling the protagonist has to overcome the obstacles facing them on their own. Even in Fight Club this is (nonsensically) the case. Once Maddy can go outside, through no action of Maddy’s the biggest obstacle to her happiness is gone. And, yes, she does disobey her mother and head off to Hawaii, but that isn’t the ultimate rise in action of the story. That isn’t the “final battle.” To tie up loose ends, the plot twist essentially writes them away.
But hey, that’s just my piece. And after writing that, I do think that another reading of the book may result in me lowering my rating, and writing a review after the revisit, but I’ll do that only if you guys want me to. So let me know if that’s the case! In the meantime, let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on this book (or the movie based on it, which I never actually saw so I’d love to hear about it) and I’ll be off writing my story for Camp NaNoWriMo.
If you’re interested in Everything, Everything and making your own conclusions about it, you can buy it on Amazon! Have at it!
See you guys soon!
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