Monday, 12 October 2015
Everything, Everything - Nikola Yoon
“Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love.”
There is much to be said about Everything, Everything, but sadly most of what I have in mind isn't going to be good.
Here's what I can say about it that's nice:
I enjoyed the read for about a third of the book. It had good description - sometimes - and cute dialogue. There were a few characters I liked. The layout was quirky. The book was somewhat in touch with the times (tumblr is mentioned, of course, and it's set in 2015), but at times it feels awkward. Does someone still use IM as main way of online communication? What about Skype, FaceTime, Facebook messenger? I don't know why, but this really bothered me. Mostly the book could be set in any year in the 21st century, and I feel like it could have felt a bit more current.
Let this be said: I have seen many reviews from people who loved this book on Goodreads and I have also read many of those reviews. I also expected to like this book because I find the bubble baby syndrome very interesting and have been looking for a novel quite like this for a long time. This should have, by all means, been a book I had been trying to find all my life, and I should have loved it. Then what went wrong?
The main character is Madeline Whittier, and she is both a bland, unlikeable vanilla personality and a half-Japanese half-African book nerdy special snowflake with a very rare but also very popularised disease, SCID. Don't get me wrong here - I'm all for multiculturalism and POC getting all the love in the world. Here, though, I feel like her cultural heritage begins and ends with the mention of where her parents are from and a reference to her skin colour, without bringing anything to the story. She could well be Generic Girl From Anywhere™. To put it in a nutshell, she can never go outside because she could die from anything.
At first she talks about her condition with understandable detachedness, but because of a boy - Olly, whom I wish to describe with annoying lack of character faults, even though I couldn't really dislike him - she soon turns reckless and decides she doesn't want to live anymore, dashing outside even though she has never in her life been able to do that without risking dying. I hope that sounds bad because it is.
Of course, there's a lot wrong with her that's not limited to just this. I'd personally be more interested in reading about an inspiring character with unfair optimism, spiralling into depression or something, anything else than this. She describes the same things over and over again - my white room, white shelves, white life et cetera, without it adding anything to the story. Yes, it made me feel just how boring her life was, but it didn't make me really relate to her.
Also, near the beginning, she mentions having precious online friends. This is nice and can see this happening. The issue is that I don't think they're ever returned to, even though they have to be pretty much the only friends in her bland life. But who cares when she falls in love, right?
Her mother seems nice, but for a character with such a major role in the story, she is given very little space to grow. She has devoted her whole life to Madeline and is very... motherly. If you have ever seen a mother in real life, you can probably imagine.
I didn't like the book at the beginning. I think it was because of my initial hatred for the main character, but I got over that. I enjoyed it for a while after that, when Olly was introduced and we got something other than Maddy describing her bland room and her average test results over and over again.
What ultimately ruined it for me was the ending. Possibly never in my life have I hated the end of a book so much (and I spent years as a child seething over the way Marilyn Kaye's Replica-series ended, effectively ruining the previous 23 books for me, just like that), and you will want to stop reading now unless you want to have the ending spoiled.
You've been warned.
She doesn't have SCID. She never did. It was her mother all along, traumatised by the deaths of her father and brother, convincing her that she did. It's a twisted, stupid and pointless Rapunzel ex machina, and it does the book a huge disservice. It's a fairytale ending in a book that's supposed to end badly. It feels like Yoon didn't know how to end the story, but this may well be the worst possible way to do it. Of course, this is every terminally ill person's dream - you weren't sick after all, go outside and be happy! - but it's also widely unrealistic and not the story the reader was promised. It's not what I wanted, at the very least.
I wanted to read a story about a teenager condemned to live their life indoors because of the disease and possibly gain hope and learn to accept their fate. I did not want to read a book where the teenager also has a Bella Swan -syndrome, risking her life at the tip of a hat for a boy she hardly even knows and ending up finding out that she wasn't sick after all. This was like a terrible piece of The Fault In Our Stars fanfiction, rather than an actual book I bought with real money. The worst thing is that it didn't need to be bad. I was fully prepared to give it three stars, never return to it again but admit that it was okay. Now I can only complain for the next month to anyone who will listen.