Everything All at Once
“a well-written contemporary YA novel with likable characters and a few moral lessons that are obvious but not heavy-handed.”
Author Katrina Leno has pulled off the neat trick of writing a young adult novel that also appeals to adults. It’s a simple story of a teenage girl overcoming insecurity, but it’s wrapped around a whopper of a secret that would challenge any grown-up to handle appropriately.
The existence of the secret isn’t obvious at the start; this is not a mystery novel. Rather, it’s a coming-of-age story that begins in Lottie Reaves’ final year of high school, rolling into summer.
After her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie inherits a bundle of letters—24 of them—written by Helen to be opened only by Lottie. Each letter assigns Lottie a task that will help her face and move beyond her grief and fears, one imaginative step at a time. The letters come at just the right time in Lottie’s life to serve her. She is about to leave the security of school and a warm, loving family, and is emotionally unprepared.
She loves and trusts and misses her aunt so much that she accepts the dares and undertakes them. Her process of transformation, however, happens faster and more easily than adult readers might find believable. Were this in fact an adult novel, many scenes and much character development would be broader and deeper. As it stands, both the characters and the situations are condensed rather than unrealistic, allowing them to remain credible.
This credibility is crucial to the story, because when the big secret is finally revealed, it’s so incredible that readers might slap the book shut and walk away if the lead-up wasn’t fully convincing.
By the time the secret explodes, we’ve come to know Lottie, her family, her friends, her southern New England world, and her Aunt Helen so well that there’s no trouble swallowing the surprise. Instead, we wonder how the heck she’s going to deal with it and how we might deal with such a mind-boggler ourselves.
Can’t say much more than that without giving away the secret. Overall it’s a well-written contemporary YA novel with likable characters and a few moral lessons that are obvious but not heavy-handed. Lottie struggles with issues familiar to most of us from our own teenage years as well as adulthood, and the situations presented are unusual enough for a familiar story to feel fresh. The title captures it nicely: Everything All at Once. That’s exactly what happens to Lottie, and it’s a challenging pile of conundrums and changes for anyone to handle.