It’s been more than three years since the release of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and into that vacuum has swept a class of tender-funny romance novels featuring one or more young people with dire health decrees and charm to spare. Illness—a certain kind of illness—sharpens our stance on life, heightens our relationship to time, forces us to decide what really matters. It renders first love as most crucial love. It puts everything at glittering stake.
Nicola Yoon’s debut novel Everything, Everything is a sweet addition to this category—the story of a girl who, allergic to everything, has been locked inside her home for all her years with her physician mother, her beloved nurse Carla, her air-lock filters, and her Skype classes. When a perfect new boy moves in next door, when he proves himself delicious and fabulous in every respect, Madeline Whittier wants more than she has. She wants to do more with this boy than mime in the window, write notes in the frosted glass, send IMs and emails. She wants to touch him, know him, live a normal life, like him . . . and so the plot unfolds.
Olly will visit. The two will touch, then kiss, then yearn for more. Madeline will buy airplane tickets so that they might escape and live at least a few hours to the fullest. Risks are worth taking. Being alive is not the same as actually living. And who can imagine staying inside, when so much of what matters lies beyond our own doors?
That moment of first young-love discovery, as rendered by Yoon:
I pull away first this time, but only because I need air. If I could, I would kiss him every second of every day for all the days.
He leans his forehead against mine> His breath is warm against my nose and cheeks. It’s slightly sweet. The kind of sweet that makes you want more.
“Is it always like that?” I ask, breathless.
“No,” he says. “It’s never like that.” I hear the wonder in his voice.
And just like that everything changes.
Told through narrative stretches and snippets, drawings (by Yoon’s husband, David Yoon), IMs, and emails, Everything, Everything playfully introduces chaos theory and literature, Hawaiian allure, and maps of despair, numerology, and blank space, dictionary entries and one-line book reviews. It also muses not just on teenage love, but on parental love—and fear. It asks the question, most of all: Can we ever safeguard those we love, or is love, as they say, about letting go?