Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 314

Everything, Everything is a poignant novel written by Nicola Yoon. It is about a teenage girl who suffers from an acute immune system disorder (severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID), which prevents her from leaving the house. She has lived in the company of only her mother, Pauline, and her nurse,...

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Everything, Everything is a poignant novel written by Nicola Yoon. It is about a teenage girl who suffers from an acute immune system disorder (severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID), which prevents her from leaving the house. She has lived in the company of only her mother, Pauline, and her nurse, Carla for all 18 years of her life.

One days, she sees a boy outside whose gaze meets hers. His family is moving in next door. She learns that his name is Olly and the two begin to message one another online. Her nurse, Carla, facilitates a meeting between Olly and Maddy. Olly is endearing--mature beyond his years in his love for Maddy; however, Carla is dismissed after Maddy's mother discovers the meeting. Maddy and Olly continue to communicate via text message, by means of which Maddy persuades Olly that she is taking a medicine that will allow her to take a trip with him to Hawaii.

While in Hawaii, Maddy becomes sick and returns home (after her mother had already left for Hawaii to chase after her). However, months after being treated, Maddy receives word from her doctor that she does not in fact have an immunodeficiency disorder, but rather only lacks a natural immunity because of her cloistered lifestyle. Maddy does not need to live under house arrest after all. When Maddy addresses the deception with her mother, it becomes clear that her mother feigned the disease because she had been bereft of her husband and brother and wanted to protect Maddy.

The novel is told in the first person in the form of Maddy's diary (replete with notes about the air quality, her number of breaths per minute, and other objective and mundane health records). The novel ends happily, if abruptly, with Maddy and Olly reuniting in New York. The ending suggests that their love will endure beyond the novel's closing pages.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 981

Author: Nicola Yoon (b. 1972)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present-day

Locale: California and Hawaii

Principal characters

Madeline "Maddy" Whittier, an eighteen-year-old girl with a rare disease

Olly, her next-door neighbor

Kara, Olly's sister

Carla, her longtime nurse

The Story

Madeline Whittier is not like other teenage girls. When Nicola Yoon's debut novel begins, Maddy has just turned eighteen, marking seventeen years during which she has never left her house. Maddy has a disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), more commonly referred to as "baby bubble disease." Contact with the outside world—and all of its allergens and bacteria—could quite literally kill her. She lives with her physician mother; both her father and brother died in a car accident with she was an infant. She receives daily visits from her only companion, her kindly nurse, Carla.Courtesy of Random House Children's Books

Maddy takes classes online. An avid reader, she has developed a small following for her Spoiler Book Reviews on Tumblr. She lives her life, holed up in her decontaminated house, under the guiding principle of not-wanting. If she does not desire the life she could have had if she did not have SCID, she can be happy playing words games with her mother and attending weekly French dinners in her kitchen. This protective shield of not-wanting, however, is pierced when a new family moves in next door.

The family has their own troubles: The father is an abusive alcoholic father, and the wife is meek and downtrodden. Kara, their daughter, sneaks cigarettes to deal with the stress, while their teenage son, Olly, practices parkour, a kind of gymnastics that utilizes real-world objects, as if he were unable to stay still. Looking out of her window, Maddy is mesmerized by Olly with his backflips and all-black wardrobe, and as it turns out, his window is directly across from hers. After a fateful attempt at neighborly friendship—Olly and Kara try to deliver a Bundt cake to Maddy's mom—Olly and Maddy engage in an elaborate window pantomime that leads to a tentative friendship online.

Soon, Maddy is consumed by her communication with Olly. Carla, her nurse, guesses the root of her charge's distraction, and like Juliet's nurse in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Carla arranges sporadic meetings between the lovesick teens against her better judgment. It is a serious undertaking to visit Maddy. One must submit to a thorough physical and an hour-long decontamination process—and once Olly is with Maddy, he is not allowed to touch her. Olly submits happily and their relationship becomes more intense.

Olly's visits are a secret between Maddy and Carla. They know, in their heart of hearts, that Maddy's mom will discover the affair eventually—and it happens in the most dramatic way possible. Maddy and her mother watch out of their window as Olly's dad punches him in the gut and, without thinking, Maddy breaks out of the house to run to his aid. Her mother is apoplectic. She fires Carla and takes away Maddy's Internet access. But for Maddy, who has fully broken from her path of not-wanting, there is no going back.

Maddy decides that she would rather die having experienced freedom than live in captivity. Detonating a string of plot points scattered throughout the early chapters of the novel, author Yoon engineers an elaborate escape for Maddy. She sneaks out of the house and convinces Olly to accompany her on a trip to Hawaii. The first day of the trip is perfect, but on the second day, Maddy goes into cardiac arrest. She is rushed the hospital where her mother retrieves her and brings her home.

Maddy heals, though her outlook is darker than ever. Then she receives an e-mail from the doctor in Hawaii, with some explosive news: Maddy, the doctor believes, does not have SCID. Her cardiac arrest was the result of an unrelated weakness of the heart. After several days of suspicions and tests, the doctor's diagnosis is confirmed. Maddy's mother, unhinged by grief after her husband's accident, wrongly diagnosed her daughter and then kept her in the dark to protect her. The book ends with Maddy contemplating forgiveness as she travels to New York City—Olly has finally convinced his mother to leave his father—to reunite with Olly.

Critical Evaluation

Everything, Everything is Nicola Yoon's debut novel. It contains illustrations—Maddy's doodles—created by Yoon's husband, David Yoon. The book was well received and in 2016, it was optioned as a film. The movie adaptation will star Amandla Stenberg as Maddy and Nick Robinson as Olly. Everything, Everything, as Whitney Joiner noted in a review for the New York Times, is similar to another recently successful young-adult book, The Fault in Our Stars, about two teenagers with cancer. But Yoon successfully avoids the tropes of the derisively named subgenre "sick-lit," by making Maddy's illness (which turns out to be fake) a larger metaphor for risk. Maddy is a princess in a tower—she is not the first teenage girl to sequestered in her room by a fearful parent—but her life is not a fairy tale. Her story is not merely about love but independence. Everyday life, as illustrated by the deaths of Maddy's father and brother and Olly's frighteningly unpredictable father, can be dangerous and even deadly—but to find happiness, one must take risks.

Further Reading

  • Gross, Claire E. Review of Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. The Horn Book Magazine, vol. 91, no. 6, 2015, p. 95. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=110406797&site=lrc-live. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.
  • Joiner, Whitney. Review of Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. The New York Times Sunday Book Review, 6 Nov. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/books/review/everything-everything-by-nicola-yoon.html. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.
  • Review of Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. Kirkus, 29 June 2015, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nicola-yoon/everything-everything. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.
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