By Nicola Yoon
Every time I read a Young Adult (YA) novel, I’m blown away that it’s written by someone who’s likely in their forties. Nicola Yoon, the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also A Star, is 47 years old but expertly taps into the feelings of being a teenager: curiosity, angst, insecurity, and invincibility.
Aside from writing realistic teenage characters, Yoon is also one of the YA authors bringing diversity into the genre. Madeline Whittier, the main character in Everything, Everything, is a biracial 18-year-old with a single mother. Madeline’s caretaker, Carla, is a Hispanic woman who, in the middle of the book, illustrates her immigration story. Yoon’s efforts to make the genre’s characters more diverse is necessary and makes for more inclusive narratives that reflect the identities of the young people who read them.
Now, the reason that Madeline needs a caretaker in the first place is because she was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), a group of life-threatening diseases, as a baby. This diagnosis quarantines Madeline to the inside of her home—and she is never allowed to venture outside. From the beginning of the book, Madeline seems like the ideal daughter, having mostly come to terms with her disease and a lifetime of filtered air and looking through windows. She plays weekly games of Pictionary and Scrabble with her mother—who happens to be a doctor and constantly monitors her daughter’s vitals—and the two have movie nights and Friday dinners with French-themed menus.
It seems to be a rather monotonous existence until a new family moves into the house next door, bringing with them a teenage boy named Olly, who has a penchant for parkour and black clothing. From the moment Madeline seems him through her bedroom window, the reader knows the two are going to fall in love, even as Madeline repeatedly convinces herself that it’s not possible because of her disease.
The rest of the book details the growth and eventual demise of their relationship, with a surprise twist within the last 30 pages. The character that held my attention was Carla—she seemed to offer constant comfort and endless wisdom to both Madeline and Olly, including this little bit of insight:
“You aren’t living if you aren’t regretting.”
I’m excited to watch the movie adaptation!