Every Exquisite Thing
Nanette O’Hare is the only child of privileged suburban parents, earnestly studying and earning high grades, scoring goals and breaking records on her high school soccer team. She spends her lunch break with her favorite teacher, Mr. Graves, a kindred soul who like her, prefers one-on-one conversation to the animated lunchroom.
The day before her junior year Christmas vacation, Mr. Graves gives Nanette his dog-eared, profusely highlighted copy of The Bubblegum Reaper, a book that changed his life when he read it at Nanette’s age. When she gives Mr. Graves a thank-you hug, he stiffens and gently pushes her away, because “he saw what was coming before I did because he was an adult and I was still a kid.” So starts the first of many perplexing changes in Nanette’s life.
Nanette is instantly obsessed with The Bubblegum Reaper, a novel about a Wrigley’s-gum-chewing-addict aptly called Wrigley.” She reads it over and over, identifying with Wrigley’s passion to “quit,” even though she doesn’t know for sure what he so fervently wants to quit or why.
Determined to unravel Wrigley’s mystery, Nanette seeks out the author, Nigel Booker. Booker is an old recluse who, for reasons he refuses to discuss, pulled his book out of publication shortly after its first run. Nanette and Booker quickly connect and decide to officially become friends, with Booker’s stipulation on the friendship that they can never discuss The Bubblegum Reaper. At first, there is a creepy aura to their budding relationship, until it becomes clear Booker is just an eccentric older recluse who enjoys helping loner youths. Booker introduces Nanette to Alex, a troubled teen poet who is also a rabid Bubblegum Reaper fan. Nanette and Alex become instant friends, joined by their Bubblegum Reaper obsession, desperate to learn what it means and what happens to Wrigley in the end.
The plot of Every Exquisite Thing and The Bubblegum Reaper parallel, as Alex and Nanette begin to rebel and quit parts of their life. Most notable for Nanette is quitting the soccer team, putting her college scholarships at risk, baffling her parents, and turning her teammates and friends against her. She seems not to care, enjoying her newfound autonomy until her new friends make decisions she can’t understand or condone, and life starts to go tragically wrong.
Matthew Quick fans expect and embrace his likable quirky young adult characters. Nanette is more different and searching than quirky—smart and lonely and inquisitive and willing to risk going it on her own. One of the novel’s strengths is that she is a strong heroine, strong enough to say no to sex and drinking when all her friends say yes, willing to alienate her friends and parents to figure out what she really wants. The rest of the book’s young female characters are promiscuous clichés, their behavior so extreme it causes a middle-school sex scandal that strains credulity.
The narrative is sprinkled with literary references, presumably to reveal character and deepen plot. They beg the question: Will young adult readers take the bait and google these references to learn what they add to the story?
The title of Every Exquisite Thing is based on an excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
Nanette’s life takes some tragic turns and also some hopeful ones. Teen readers will identify with her insecurity and admire her courage to risk disappointing her parents and losing friends to stick with her values and figure out what will make her life and her exquisite things.