Everything Everything: there is just so much wrong with this book

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon


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everythingEverything Everything follows the story of Maddy- a teenager who’s spent her entire life shut off from the world due to a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency. SCID has weakened Maddy’s immune system to the point where any little thing – whether that’s the smell of a flower, or the touch of a hand – can make her sick. She lives in a white life, reading books and interacting only with her mother and her nurse, Carla. When a family moves into the house next door, Maddy gets to know the boy- Olly- through IM. They have a connection, but Maddy knows she’s stepping in dangerous waters. Can they ever truly be together given how weak outside contact makes her?

I have a lot to say about this book- most of which is negative. You may be surprised given that this book has gotten nothing but rave reviews since it was released; arguably, Nicola Yoon has proven that she’s a popular new author, and no matter what she puts out, she’ll be successful. I’ve not yet given up on Yoon’s books, because I believe in people’s capability to learn. Most of my problems with this book revolve around thematic elements and Yoon’s lackluster – and frankly offensive – representation of disability. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The good: the beginning was a strong one. Everything Everything starts off with nothing short of a bang; the narrator’s voice is established from the get-go. We get interesting, cute illustrations and graphs, and the premise itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but devour the story. When Olly is introduced, you’re immediately drawn to his character too. The brooding, mysterious kid from a dysfunctional family… honestly, I was quite interested in every character belonging to his family too- that’s just how good the novel was set up. But unfortunately, Olly’s family never gets the development it deserved. And from a book seemingly about Maddy, her relationship with her mother and her nurse, her actual disability was largely pushed aside and was only brought up in a context of “oh, I want to be with Olly now.” This book became something I hadn’t anticipated: a book about her and Olly.

It’s not that I have anything against romance. I can be a rabid shipper like anybody else, but you go into books like these with expectations. In the YA genre, disabilities are under-represented, so I expected representation. I expected this book to be more wholesome. I wanted more from it. The romance felt rushed after the first few interactions; everything began to happen too quickly. Maddy’s infatuation with books is thrown out of the window. Her relationship with her mother is left dangling. Olly’s life at home is referred to in a couple of conversations and well-placed notes, but other than that, it’s largely ignored for cheesy one-liners.

But that might not have been too bad if it weren’t coupled with all the offensive thematic material in this book. It wasn’t a story about a young boy and a girl falling in love and having to deal with the realities of Maddy’s sickness- which are things so many people all over the world go through. Where they have problems and arguments and frustrations; the things that make and break relationships. Not even necessarily due to sickness, but other things- things that happen in every relationship. But in this story, Maddy’s disability becomes the single obstacle standing in between an otherwise perfect love story. I got the impression that Yoon was saying, “Oh, imagine how perfect they would be, how happy and content if only she wasn’t sick.” I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. That’s bullshit. Framing a disability in a way that the main character cannot live or love with it is so, so harmful to the millions of people all over the world who are happy, who make their lives and relationships work. It made me cringe and fume- I cannot begin to imagine how young people who had picked this book up looking to see their lives reflected on the pages felt.

If you’d like to know more, continue reading on to the spoilery section; I think it’s important to know exactly what’s wrong with this book on top of what’s already mentioned. Which I cannot really discuss without giving away part of the book. If you want to know why this book is problematic, read on. Having said that, I’d urge you to read this review @ Disability in KidLit on the representation of disability in this book, because much of what I say next is said much better in this review.


Spoiler-y Section


Everything Everything has a twist in the end, and the twist is that Maddy doesn’t have SCID. She’s never had SCID; in fact, her mother has a severe case of Munchausen syndrome that led her to believe that Maddy was sick, so she kept her indoors all her life. Maddy, when she finds out, is both distraught and happy: distraught because her mother has lied her entire life, and happy because she can finally live. Two things: first, Munchausen syndrome is a serious mental illness, and children die all over the world because mothers – truly believing that they are protecting their kids – are ill. To fucking pass Munchausens off as a plot twist so that the audience can be ‘happy’ for the main character is sick.

Not only has the author done a disservice to mental illness, she’s done a disservice to the kids reading her book because wow, all the main character’s problems are now solved because she’s not sick. Because God fucking forbid that a character with a disability can be happy and content, can get what she wants in her life. No, for a character to be able to live their life, they need (1) a miracle cure, or (2) a cheap plot twist that invalidates the lives of millions of other people in our world. I’m sorry; it doesn’t sit right with me, and it honestly gave me such a bad taste in my mouth.

Can I just say that I’d like to think I’m engaged in a reasonably active community; the only thing I’d heard about this book was how good it was, how great it is that a diverse book is getting this much attention. Not once had I heard the disgusting ableism and offensive themes in this book mentioned- not a single time. Until a friend of mine who suffers from a disability told me that the book made her feel like shit, and she sent me the review I linked above. Just because a book is diverse and is written by an author of color does not mean that you give the problematic bullshit a free pass. Talk about the themes, because unless things are called out, nobody learns. Nobody grows. I am not ostracizing the author because like I said, people learn. Nobody was born pitch-perfect, and I’m sure I’ll give her another chance. I am, however, ostracizing the community for turning a blind eye. For being quiet, or simply for not noticing. Or – and this may be a reality – for not caring.


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  • I can’t agree with you more. I talked a little bit about Maddy’s mother in my review, and how it felt like an abusive relationship to me, but the book blogger community (including me) really should have picked up on this.

  • Wow. This is a great review! I never did read the book. But I completely agree about the plot twist. I am surprised more people haven’t spoken out about it!

  • Oh wow. Thanks for the review and pointing this out! I read the first half of the book but couldn’t get into and was considering giving it another go. I think I shall rethink that now. Hopefully, this is brought to the author’s attention and she can learn from it.

  • You’re right Aimal, I didn’t realize the toxic messages this book was giving until you shared it on Twitter and I should have. I wish I could go back and read it with eyes wide open but I can’t. I added that same review you mentioned to the very top of my review and I hope I’ll be more aware of these awful kinds of messages in the future. Thank you for helping me realize my mistakes.

    • Thanks for adding it to your review, Sara! I’m just bummed because I’m active in diversity circles and I hadn’t heard anything until a friend pointed it out; I just wish there was more conversation. <3

  • I’ve never read the book but I love your review

  • I gave this book three stars because I found myself overall glad that I read it, but I agree so much with everything that you’ve said. I also mentioned in my review that the twist felt SO MUCH like a cop-out and was one of the main elements that disappointed me – I didn’t take it one step further like you did and outlined why it disappointed me, but it’s exactly because of what you said: Maddy is actually not sick, problem solved! I’d have loved to see her deal with the sickness, but alas. :/

    Have you given The Sun is Also a Star a try yet (or are you going to)? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that one. 🙂

    • I agree… apart from being offensive, it was also just lazy storytelling. It’s such a shame because when I went into it, I was so stoked because I’d heard literally nothing but praise.

      I haven’t read TSIAAS quite yet, but I own a copy. I’ve heard that one’s better, so I’m looking forward to giving it a go. 🙂

      • I hope you like TSIAAS better! It deals with different (but also important) themes, and I feel like it did so in a much better, more sensitive way.

  • I was planning to read this book, but I feel ki d of glad now that I haven’t even bought it yet, because I have serious doubts that I still want to pick it up.

  • I don’t really get into the hype of this book, but now that I read your review, I’m so glad I didn’t read this one! Maybe I’ll just try her other books 🙂

  • This is a great review. I felt the same about the “twist” and about the book in general!

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  • As a person with a disability and chronic illnesses I couldn’t agree with you more. I found this book to be very insulting. Honestly I could barely formulate words for a review on Goodreads I was so upset. You review was excellent.

  • So I had no plans to read this book because I’d seen a few people say MI wasn’t handled well, but there was no actual detail given as to why. Reading the details in this post now I actually feel sick. I can’t believe a serious mental illness was used as a “plot twist”. Not to mention the way the MC no longer being sick was handled. I’m so, so glad I never picked up this book. Thank you for sharing this review, Aimal!!

  • Thank you so much for reviewing this! I felt a bit off about that ending and I never was quite able to put it in words – but you did it perfectly!
    Especially with you mentioning how it didn’t do representation well – I haven’t heard someone’s perspective on it before, and it was good to get yours and Jennifer’s points of view.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Aimal <3

  • Ok… I’m read the spoilers bc I’ll never read this.
    Are you kidding me?? That’s weird. Stupid. Creepy. Offensive.
    I’m not one to judge books, but I’m honestly surprised this is that popular then. Bc, cmon! Really? 😮

  • I read this book but never reviewed it on my blog. I loved the first part, but then lost interest as soon as the twist became obvious. It didn’t sit well with me either.

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  • I have never thought of it that way. Thanks for pointing that out. That is why we need diverse books and diverse readers. What might seem okay to someone, might be someone else’s NO NO!

    I think it is also very important to point out issues in a book, and wait to see if the author learns from her mistakes.

    Thanks for sharing this review!

  • Mary Zdrojewski

    Thank you!

    When I first heard buzz about this book, I was super excited, because I really am allergic to everything. Everything? Everything.

    I was crushed when I read it. I didn’t even see this as a “twist” ending because, as a person with severe allergies, it was obvious from the very beginning that this character did not really have allergies.

    Any person with an immune disorder can tell you about multitudes of doctors who told them their disease was all in their head. This book, in addition to all its other problems, does huge harm to the immune disorder community as a whole.

    And, by the way, SCID is a primary immune deficiency disorder, while allergies are a problem of overactive immune systems. They are completely different. How did the author conflate the two?

    I really cannot understand all the rave reviews about this book. And now it’s soon to be a movie!

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