Everything, Everything

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Book Review

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

Madeline Whittier is an 18-year-old with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). She is violently allergic to countless substances, so she lives in a sealed-off and sterilized home with her mother. Her only other company is her nurse, Carla.

Her quiet life changes when a new family moves in next door. The Bright family has two teenage children, and their mother sends them over to the Whittiers’ house with a cake as a present. Madeline’s mother does not accept the cake or allow the teens to enter her home because they might contaminate her daughter.

However, Olly Bright, one of the teens, is determined to meet Madeline. He writes his email address on the glass of his bedroom window, and he and Madeline quickly become friends by exchanging emails and instant messages. Madeline begs Carla to allow Olly to visit her, and eventually Carla agrees. After just one visit, Madeline starts to feel like she’s falling in love with Olly. She agonizes over whether to continue their friendship since it might lead to a broken heart, but ultimately decides to keep meeting Olly.

During one in-person visit, Madeline reveals to Olly that her father and older brother were killed in a car accident when she was a baby. The settlement money from the accident allowed her mother to pay for their specially sealed home and its industrial quality air filtration system. Olly also begins to discuss his family’s difficult situation, specifically his father’s alcoholism and domestic violence problem.

Carla is concerned that Madeline is neglecting her relationship with her mother in order to spend all her spare time emailing and IMing Olly. It grows harder for Madeline to keep her romantic life a secret from her mother.

One day, the secret is revealed when Madeline looks out her window and sees Olly being punched by his drunken father. For the first time in 17 years, Madeline leaves her home, rushing outdoors to help the boy she loves. She screams at Mr. Bright to stop, which surprises him so much that he stops beating Olly. Madeline is then dragged back indoors by her mother.

Madeline’s mom grounds her after she discovers Olly and Madeline’s secret relationship. She also fires Carla for jeopardizing Madeline’s health by allowing another person into the house. After several weeks of being grounded from the internet, except for her school studies, Madeline realizes that her old routine of solitary study and hangouts with her mother is no longer satisfying. She wants to live for a few days in the outside world, even if it means she will die quickly.

Madeline sneaks out of her house and convinces Olly to run away with her to Hawaii. She lies and tells him that she has experimental pills that will allow her to manage her SCID symptoms. After landing in Maui, Madeline and Olly check into a hotel and visit the beach. She is able to shop for souvenirs, eat tropical foods, go snorkeling and even go cliff diving with no ill effects. Olly and Madeline confess their love to each other and sleep together.

Madeline wakes up in the middle of the night in severe pain. She is rushed to the hospital, where her heart stops and she has to be resuscitated. Her mother arrives in Hawaii and takes her home.

Once again Madeline is grounded as she recovers from her near-death experience. When she regains internet privileges, she tells Olly that she can’t talk with him anymore because it’s too painful to be reminded of the life she can’t have. One day, Madeline sees a moving van next door and realizes that Olly and his mom and sister are finally moving away from the abusive Mr. Bright.

Weeks later, Madeline receives an email from the emergency room doctor who treated her during her hospitalization in Hawaii. The doctor says that Madeline’s violent allergic reaction was the result of a viral infection and her medical tests show no evidence of SCID whatsoever. Madeline confronts her mother with this new piece of information, but her mother insists that she does have SCID.

Madeline secretly looks through her mother’s old files and records. She discovers that when she was 6 months old, just after her father and brother had died in a car accident, her mother became obsessed with keeping her safe. Madeline had been constantly ill as an infant, so her mother decided that Madeline had SCID without receiving any formal diagnosis. Madeline is horrified to realize that she does not have a disease and that she has been kept locked away for her entire life because of her mother’s paranoia.

With Carla’s help, Madeline finds a new doctor who urges her to enter the outside world carefully and gradually. Although Madeline doesn’t have SCID, she does have a compromised immune system due to living in a sterile environment.

In the following weeks, Madeline grows more independent. She books a flight to New York to go see Olly, this time with her mother’s knowledge. She texts him that she’s leaving him a present at a local bookshop. She hides in another aisle in order to surprise him, then they joyfully reunite and (it is implied) restart their romance.

Christian Beliefs

As part of a joke about an indestructible Bundt cake, Olly wears a robe and a large cross necklace as he pretends to be a priest administering last rites to the dying cake. It’s mentioned that Olly looks at Madeline like a nonbeliever seeing his first evidence that God might exist. Madeline says that her mother believes in being on time the same way that others might believe in God.

Other Belief Systems

Olly says that people are like math formulas. He believes that each person is a series of outputs determined by inputs, essentially just a product of their experiences. Olly’s friend Zach wants to be called Zachariah since he wants to be a rock god and he thinks the new name sounds like “Messiah.”

Authority Roles

Madeline adores her mother, Dr. Whittier, and the two women easily express their affection for each other with hugs, shared jokes and words of affirmation. The relationship gradually cools as Madeline begins to lie to her mother about her time with Olly.

Dr. Whittier initially seems to be a perfect parent, totally dedicated to the wellbeing of her child. However, when it becomes clear that Dr. Whittier’s own fear and mental instability led her to raise a healthy girl as if she were terminally ill, she no longer seems heroic. Dr. Whittier does enter therapy to help her sort through her psychological issues, and there is hope that she and Madeline can one day mend their relationship.

Madeline’s nurse, Carla, loves her deeply. Carla laments that her relationship with her own 17-year-old daughter, Rosa, is not as close as that of Madeline and her mother. Madeline grieves when Carla is fired and makes sure to visit Carla before she travels to Hawaii. Carla constantly offers thoughtful advice to Madeline and encourages her to live bravely.

Olly’s mother, Mrs. Bright, is an enthusiastic woman who shows affection for her children and sends a Bundt cake to her new neighbors.

Mr. Bright is an alcoholic. He is physically abusive toward his wife and verbally abusive toward his children. He regularly yells at his family over perceived slights. On one occasion, he roughly grabs his wife and punches Olly in the stomach.

Profanity & Violence

Profanity uses are s— (1), b–tard (3), godd–m (5), and a–hole(1). Characters use Oh my with God and Jesus a few times.

Sexual Content

Madeline and Olly kiss several times.

Olly’s friend Zach is gay but hasn’t told his parents yet.

Madeline and Olly have sex. It’s mentioned that she is a virgin and he is not. Olly assures Madeline that she doesn’t have to consummate their relationship if she doesn’t want to, but she insists that she is a willing participant and has even prepared for the occasion by buying condoms.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

Stalking: When the Brights move in next door, Madeline keeps a journal of all their outdoor activities, listing the complete daily schedule of every family member. This level of observation could be considered invasive or obsessive.

Smoking: Olly’s teenage sister, Kara, smokes frequently.

Lying: Madeline’s lying grows increasingly problematic. At first she hides her friendship with Olly from her mother, and then hides the fact that she and Olly have touched and kissed from Carla. Then she lies to Olly about having pills that will enable her to safely travel away from her home. Dr. Whittier lies to Madeline her whole life — telling her she’s terminally when she’s a healthy girl.

Movie Tie-In: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare this book review with Plugged In’s movie review for Everything, Everything.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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