I think, as human beings, the thing that stops us the most is fear. Fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of rejection. It’s not love, heartbreak, or disappointment that does us damage in the end, but rather the fear of being hurt that stops us from doing anything at all. But even though living in that fear is still living, it’s not being truly alive. Being alive means living your life beyond that fear – doing the things that scare you, risking getting hurt, wearing your heart on your sleeve. Because if you’re not being truly alive, then what’s the point in living?
This is what Nicola Yoon focuses on in her brilliant young adult fiction novel, Everything, Everything. This beautiful yet delicate story is about the thrill, adventure and heartbreak that comes when we break out of our shells to do crazy, unimaginable and sometimes death-defying things for love. It touches on what it is like to desire better; to seek greater things from this life than what we are initially given.
My (Madeline Whittier) disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
It’s very rare you find a story with a truth so strong that you actually have to stop reading it in order to comprehend the full meaning in it’s entirety, but this is what happened to me whilst reading Everything, Everything. The novel takes on a heart-throbbing journey of teens falling in love, experiencing the wonders of the world for the first time, and discovering the deeper meaning of life. In other words, what it means to be really alive.
What Yoon teaches us through Maddie is that just because you can’t experience everything the world has to offer, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experience anything at all. She reminds us that the world and life is unpredictable, and although we can do everything right, things and people can still become messed up. But that messiness doesn’t make it (or us) any less beautiful, because sometimes it take the mistakes and mess to understand the true value of living.
The thing I loved most though about Everything, Everything, was the deeper message of the novel. The idea that love and life and adventure are risky, but everything is risky, even doing absolutely nothing at all.
“Everything’s a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.”
— Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything
Sometimes we decide not to do something because in our minds, the risk is too high. Sometimes we lose our words because the steaks are so high and we feel like we have so much to lose. We’re petrified of doing something, saying too much, or saying it wrong, and we forget the risks of what doing nothing has. The truth is, the only wrong thing you can say or do is nothing at all.
We need to put ourselves out there and be truly alive to finally understand for ourselves that knowing is better than wondering, waking is better than sleeping, and that even the biggest failure, even the worst most intractable mistake, beats the hell out of not trying.
Everything, Everything is is one of the few novels I have read that shows us that it is our job as readers to wander the world, to fall in love, chase after the dreams in our hearts and not settle for anything less than what makes us feel alive.
In the book, Yoon writes:
“In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.”
— Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything
It’s always about what we don’t have, but rather what in this life we are willing to fight for.
This story is so important in the way that the words practically save us, the simple yet complex story on only a thin page gives us the perpetual hope that once seemed utterly nonexistent.