(AKA, A Review of a Heterosexual Romance Novel By Someone Who Hates Heterosexual Romance Novels)
Okay, first of all, to some people, the title of this review is almost a spoiler for the book. But I justify the use of it by my estimation that the middle of the Venn diagram that sits between ‘people who have seen Repo! The Genetic Opera‘ and ‘people who enjoy YA romance novels’ does not have very many people in it. Certainly, I’m still not really in it, even though I read them and enjoy them about once every 100 years. My enjoyment of any given heterosexual romance novel is like a lunar eclipse: rare, dark, and slightly unnerving.
A lot of people in my life were surprised that I read this book, and I will admit, it’s absolutely not something I would pick up with no outside encouragement. The encouragement here was the movie (I love Amandla Stenberg and would give her an Oscar for folding laundry), so I ultimately did decide to pick up the book even though every particle of my heterosexual romance hating brain was begging me to put it back down. But I’m fairly glad that I didn’t.
(For the purpose of this review, every time I use the phrase ‘romance novel’, assume I’m talking about traditional, cisgender, heterosexual romance novels. Alright. Carry on.)
Everything, Everything is the story of an eighteen-year-old girl named Madeline who has spent her entire life inside her sterilized, airlocked house because of an illness called SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency). She describes herself as being allergic to the world, and that pretty much sums it up. The only people she ever sees are her overprotective doctor mother and her nurse, Carla, as well as the occasional tutor who has to stand in a sanitization bath for an hour just to get in.
Of course, everything gets seriously fucked up when a cute guy moves in next door. This was about where I started rolling my eyes, but I read on. His name is Olly. He wears all black, is into parkour, and seems to have a really shitty family life judging by the anger from his father that Maddy observes through her window. Soon, though, Olly starts talking to her through the window, then through emails and chat, and of course, because this is a romance novel, they fall in love.
He’s allowed to see her a few times after aforementioned sanitization bath, but now that Maddy has a taste of what waits for her outside—being able to touch him, watch him climb and flip, listening to him describe the ocean—she can’t justify constantly staying inside. And when Carla gets fired for letting Olly in to see her, Maddy decides that a short, risky life is better than a long, captive one.
I didn’t completely hate Olly and Maddy’s relationship, which is new for me. It had a lot to do with the fact that neither of them were the empty shells of characters that I’ve come to expect from romance novels. Ordinarily, especially in YA romance, I find at least one of the two characters falls completely flat, and I do understand that there’s reason behind the madness. Adult romance novelists (and even pornographers) often write off any personality from the gender of the target audience in order to provide a better environment for self-insert.
But I digress. My point is that both Maddy and Olly are well-rounded characters who would do well in stories without the other, which in my opinion is the test of a good fictional couple. They can stand on their own but are better together. I loved that they were both very intelligent, but in different ways; Maddy loves literature and reading, Olly is a math and science enthusiast. But neither of them is portrayed as the ‘true’ intelligent one. It’s clear that they’re both smart, and their knowledge sort of completes one another.
The plot was interesting enough, although by the time I was about halfway through it started getting rather predictable. That didn’t take any of my enjoyment away from reading it, however. Some of Maddy’s little inserts were funny and cute, others were cheesy and cringe-worthy. Some of Nicola Yoon’s purple prose was breathtaking and admirable, but some of it had me tilting my head wondering what the hell being ‘in a featureless white landscape dotted with open doors that lead nowhere’ means.
So I feel like the writing was both a hit and miss, if such a thing is possible. I think the central question of ‘can love kill you?’ is an interesting one, since in this case it’s taken literally as well as metaphorically. Despite my attempts to remain a cold, hard-shelled queer reader with heavy criticisms toward het romance, there were more than few times I felt genuinely sad for them, or genuinely happy and excited, and I respect any writer who can make me feel things that easily.
This doesn’t mean I’ll be reading more of this heterosexual foolishness. But I’m definitely going to see the movie.
Take it easy, guys.
gossip girl Kell