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Book review: 'Everything, Everything' puts life in perspective

Holly Viers • May 18, 2019 at 9:00 PM

As someone who’s read countless novels over the years, I find it takes a lot for a book to stand out to me.

But earlier this week, it happened. It’s funny how one short, simple book can change your perspective on life.

I’m referring to “Everything, Everything,” the 2015 debut novel by young adult author Nicola Yoon. The book is what I like to refer to as a fast-paced beach read, but unlike many others of its kind, this one speaks a powerful message.

Before I delve into that, let me back up a little. Just last week, I experienced another rare phenomenon: I realized I had run out of books to read. Ordinarily I have a long list of must-read books, but after finishing a particularly long series I’d wanted to read for months, my list ran out.

That left me with a couple of options: Choose a book at random or consult others’ suggestions. I went with the latter and followed the advice of a fellow reader, who suggested “Everything, Everything.”

The book is Yoon’s first of two romance novels. Her second work, “The Sun Is Also a Star,” was released in 2016 and has been adapted into a film, now in theaters.

But let’s get back to Yoon’s first book. “Everything, Everything” follows Madeline Whittier, a teenage girl who is being treated for a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. As she describes it, she’s essentially “allergic to the world” and has lived her entire life indoors.

Her life takes an unexpected turn when a new family moves in next door. Madeline is drawn to the teenage son, Olly — this is a romance novel after all — and they soon begin communicating online and through their bedroom windows.

Eventually, Madeline starts to feel that a remote relationship with Olly isn’t going to be enough. She takes a risk for the first time in her life, thanks in part to the advice of her in-home nurse, Carla: “Life is a gift. Don’t forget to live it.”

I won’t give away the rest of the plot, but I will say I admire Madeline’s bravery. She decides she’d rather risk her life than spend it locked up inside, never able to feel the sun on her face or rain on her skin.

I believe the author intended this novel to be a love story above all else, but I took a different, more thought-provoking message from it. So many of us get locked in the day-to-day routines of life, without pausing to experience the exciting possibilities within our reach.

Everyone reading this column is alive, but as Madeline realizes in the novel, being alive and living are two different things. I’ll leave you to answer this question for yourself: Are you just alive, or are you really living?

Holly Viers is a general assignment reporter for the Kingsport Times News.

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