Book Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ Is Nothing Expected

“While the book leaves something to be desired, the plot is a fresh spin on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel.”


What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In ‘Everything, Everything’, Maddy is a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she’s ever taken.

In light of the movie “Everything, Everything” hitting theaters on May 19th, I read the book, because everyone knows the book is better. I do plan to give the movie a fair shot especially because the book leaves room for improvement. Nicola Yoon’s book, released back in 2015, the novel quickly picked up steam stirring social media and rightly so. While the book leaves something to be desired, the plot is a fresh spin on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel.

Madeline Whittier lives in her home with her mom and day nurse Carla. Her walls are white and lined with bookshelves, her primary form of entertainment. Forced into a reclusive life by SCID, or Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease, Maddy spends her days absorbing the world through books and the internet because she is allergic to the world. Then Olly moves in next door. He fights with his abusive father while his sister hides cigarette butts in the bushes. He takes refuge on the roof while his father drinks another bottle. He protects his mother from another unexpected blow.

Maddy watches and records Olly’s life from the window while playing phonetic Scrabble with her mom, unaware how much she has missed living in a bubble. When Olly and his sister show up one day with a cake in greeting, Maddy’s mom, Pauline makes known Maddy will not be allowed to communicate with the outside world. Pauline wants to protect her daughter not just from illness, which can walk in through their air controlled mudroom, but also from the people who can make her see beyond the life she has always lived inside her protected walls. Olly and Maddy find ways to communicate anyways. Smiles through windows, texting, emailing and daydreaming about a life where they are not separated.

Carla decides Pauline is wrong by forcing her daughter into a life with only two people and a teacher for companionship. With proper protocols to protect Madeline’s health in place, she brings Olly in for a visit and love happens. Eighteen-year-old Maddy shifts away from focusing on her mom to focusing on her new all-absorbing interest: Oliver. As she pulls away, her mother becomes more protective until she finds out about Olly’s relationship with her only daughter. Coupled with her fears about her daughter’s life-threatening illness and the memory of her deceased husband and son, Pauline fires Carla for allowing another person into the house to pollute the controlled environment.

Maddy doesn’t give up. She builds up her courage to sneak out of the house and experience life outside of her sickbed. Before long she and Olly are on a romantic getaway to Hawaii to experience the one thing Madeline has dreamed of outside her home in Southern California: The ocean and Hawaiian fish. Really, she just wants to experience life. She needs to touch another human being and forget her health is a constant threat looming over her head. When illness does strike, Maddy regrets nothing until her mother finds her and takes her back home. Now aware of what the world offers, Maddy becomes angry at her predicament. She hides in her room ignoring the world and Olly. Her late start in teenage rebellion and angst harms the melodic relationship she previously had with her mother, the only person left in her life. When secrets reveal a spider’s web of deceit and loss, Maddy must learn to cope with losing her innocence and learn to trust herself to find her way in the world and back to the one person who made life worth living and loving.

What to love about the book: short chapters propelling the book forward and tons of visuals. With the world so focused on electronics, Yoon was right to fill the pages of this book with charts and daydreams to show the limited scope of Maddy’s world. The problem is, with such short chapters, finding a place to pause can be a challenge. Carve out a few hours in your day and read the book in one setting, problem solved.

Yoon also managed to create innocence rarely seen by those not locked in an air-filtered bubble. Seeing the world through Maddy’s eyes is like re-experiencing life as an infant: everything is a first. Olly is another success, an odd guy with angles. Of course, he is dressed in black with abs to die for, but he has some depth worth exploring. With a great sense of humor to boot, Oliver is a smart choice for Maddy’s hero. Madeline herself is worth reading, not just because of her innocence but because of her love of books. She is like Belle and Rapunzel mixed into one. Although, her persistence to be happy trapped in her fortified home is almost nauseating. Which leads to the problems presented in this Young Adult novel.

How can someone be content with only two people in life and never turn an angry word towards their warden? The complacency Maddy demonstrates borders on insanity. Carla presents problems too; her presence in Maddy’s life as nursemaid should have revealed truths far sooner than she does and then only when prompted by Maddy’s finally curious brain finally figuring out the many shades of gray in her life. With so much swept under the rug and Madeline’s relationship bordering on perfect with her mom, the added drama next door with Olly’s family feels like Yoon wants to convince her character to stay behind the window, but then she forces Maddy out of the house and into troubles arms. The drama behind Pauline is well worth the read, coupled with the experience of living life through fresh eyes. Read the book first and be ready to watch the motion picture in May. Let’s hope the movie rates at least as many stars as the book.

Now available in bookstores

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