book club: ‘everything, everything’.

by Michael King

Everything, Everything was an Amazon recommendation. I’m not sure, actually, what I purchased to bring about the suggestion, but the cover art drew me in, and the synopsis seemed promising. I did what we’ve been told not to do – I judged a book by its cover – and I added it to my Amazon cart.

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Everything, Everything concerns itself with the story of Madeline ‘Maddy’ Whittier, a burgeoning young woman who, following a childhood immune system disorder diagnosis, spent her entire upbringing in isolation from the outside world. Her ‘family’ consists of her mother, a doctor and her best friend, and her housekeeper, who speaks to Maddy of her troubles with her own daughter. She reads books, documents her thoughts, and takes courses from a distance. Maddy’s life is sterile, safe, secure.

“Sometimes I reread my favorite books from back to front. I start with the last chapter and read backward until I get to the beginning. When you read this way, characters go from hope to despair, from self-knowledge to doubt. In love stories, couples start out as lovers and end as strangers. Coming-of-age books become stories of losing your way. Your favorite characters come back to life.”

All of this changes, of course, when a boy Maddy’s age moves into the house next door. She observes him, a curious young woman feeling the first swells of attraction, and the two eventually make contact. Predictably, perhaps, the walls of Maddy’s safe and sheltered life begin to feel too small for her. A new experience – a new dream – makes it hard to sit back and accept the limitations she’s grown in.

“You can’t predict the future. It turns out that you can’t predict the past either. Time moves in both directions – forward and backward – and what happens here and now changes them both.”

The voice of the narrator is intimate, insightful, and curious. Maddy’s foray into starkly new territory invites the reader to look around at the wonder and opportunity readily available and, often, taken for granted. The narrative follows a path that is simultaneously predictable and surprising, delving into themes of parental protection, abuse and mental illness, reckless abandon, and the meaning of life and love.

“We watch the way the water pulls back and turns over and beats against the sand, trying to wear the earth away. And even though it doesn’t succeed, it pulls back and pounds the shore again and again, as if there were no last time and there is no next time and this time is the time that counts.”

Everything, Everything is a quick read, written plainly and clearly, but it’s deceptively brilliant and daring in the directions it moves. If the measure of a good read is a difference in the reader, then this novel succeeds, as it deftly peels away the reader’s jadedness and ennui, encouraging her or him to breathe in and look out.

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