Reviewed by Sabine
Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon’s gorgeous debut novel, explores the question, ‘what would you risk to experience love, if you knew it could kill you?’
Madeline Whittier, in 17 years, has not left her home. Madeline has been trapped in her white-walled, decontaminated, airlock-sealed home with her mother, so she does not risk exposure to a number of viruses, allergens, bacteria, and other harmful airborne particles. With a rare disease, severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID, commonly known as “bubble baby disease,” Madeline’s weak immune system could not handle diseases that an unaffected person could easily handle. Visitors, which are rare (besides Madeline’s nurse, Carla) must go through a long, painful decontamination process in the airlock, before they can interact with Madeline.
Even though Madeline has not experienced even half of what a normal teenager would have, she remains content with her solitary life, finding company in books and learning through online tutors. All that Madeline experiences is within her home, automatically excluding love. She had never experienced love or heartbreak, that is, until a new family moves in next door. The family has one child, a son who dresses in all black and practices parkour, that particularly interests Madeline.
Madeline notices that the boy next door, Oliver -Olly- spends his hours on the roof, completing a mystery task and protecting his mother and sister from their abusive, alcoholic father. What begins as communication through their windows, facing each other, soon turns into online messaging. They spend hours messaging each other over email, Madeline trying to hide this relationship from her mother and nurse. Soon she admits her longing for this boy.
Eventually Carla learns of this communication and tells Madeline that love cannot kill her, unlike the number of dangers outside her house. Carla allows them to see each other in person as long as they remain a reasonable distance from each other and make sure there is absolutely no physical contact. Olly and Madeline’s romance seems doomed with all of their obstacles. Even with this, when Madeline sees Olly’s father drunk and violent, she cannot help herself and runs out of her decontaminated house, into the dangerous world to help Olly. This exposes their secret relationship to her mother and gets Carla consequently fired. Soon after this, Madeline takes a great leap into the unknown, taking risks greater than meeting and falling in love with Olly, learning new things and uncovering secrets in the process.
Reminiscent of other popular teenage romance books, Everything, Everything puts a new spin on classic topics, including forbidden love and love threatened by terminal illness. With the addition of adorable illustrations detailing things like Madeline’s medical charts, guides to kissing, and other things by Nicola Yoon’s husband, David Yoon, and the sweetly passionate, sensible characters, Yoon does not tells us just of the worth of love even if it could mean heartbreak and pain. She also explores that fear of pain and loss is what keeps people from exploring new possibilities and leaving their metaphorical decontaminated, white house.