Imagine being grounded - not being able to leave the house, see your friends, or visit your favorite places. Now imagine living that sort of life for eighteen years. In Nicola Yoon’s new young adult novel, Everything, Everything, this is the story of main character Madeline’s life.
Allergic to literally most of the world, Madeline has only known her sterile house, mother, and nurse. Until a new boy moves next door. I chatted with author Nicola about the book, love, and taking risks:
A fun question I like to ask is about the books or stories they wrote before the one that got published. How many books did you write before this one?
I actually wrote one book before, which I might come back to one day, but it just isn't ready for anyone to see at all right now. It's pretty awful. But I still like some of the ideas in it, so one day. Hopefully.
What are some of the themes of Everything, Everything?
For me, it's really about all of the risks you take for love and whether or not those risks are worth it, whether or not love is worth it. Because, I feel like, everyone has been in love or loved someone or something just so much that it takes over your life. But then the question for me is always what if you lose it? Then, you know, how does life continue? Are you able to continue?
I think that first started worrying about it when I met my husband, because I'm totally, totally in love with him. I'm crazy about him. And when I first met him, I was like ‘oh my gosh, this is the one.’ And then I started wondering what would happen if he got hit by a car or something terrible happening. And then we had our daughter and things were even worse, like ‘holy cow, now I have the two of them.’
I love them way too much, and you sort of wonder. The risk of losing love could be devastating. I definitely think that's what the book is about. Love in all of its forms, and the risk that you take by being in love and whether it's worth it.
I know that when (spoiler) happened, I started screaming. I took the book to my sister's graduation today, because I thought I could finish it in a day, and I kept screaming. Especially when I got to the end. It was awesome.
Yay! I'm glad you like it. I mean, I started writing when I first had my daughter and I was totally worried about everything with her, like ‘Oh, she's gonna get a cold, she's gonna fall down,’ so I really related to the parts with [Maddie's Mom].
So what types of stories would you like to see more in YA over the next few years?
I'm a part of We Need Diverse Books, so one of my sort of personal priorities is just getting stories with more diverse characters and all sorts of characters. I feel like there are two types of books that we usually see when it comes to diverse characters: issue books and non-issue books.
I feel like issue books are super important and save lives like if you were struggling with race issues and sexuality issues and read that book and that helps you, then it saves your life.
But I feel like, for non-issue books, that don't talk about it explicitly, are also just as important. I feel like we need to see the world as it is right now, because we are a diverse world. You know, everyone doesn't wake up worrying about whatever issue or whatever label the rest of of the world puts on them. I feel like Harry Potter could be black or Mexican or gay and most of the stories wouldn't have to change. That's my sort of big thing, in terms of books in general.
So you sort of already said it, but do you think that organizations like We Need Diverse Books help get more stories out?
I think they do. I think there are lots of ways to do it. I mean, not only do we need diverse characters in books, but diverse authors and diverse editors and diverse copy editors. I think that we just need publishing to reflect the numbers in the worlds. There are lots of black people and lots of Asian people and I don't think that publishing quite reflects that and it needs to.
How did you give Madison agency over her own story, even though she was stuck in her room?
This was actually hard for me at the beginning when I started writing it because, at first, she's pretty well adjusted in her house. She's accepted her fate, and that's the agency that I gave her. I thought it would be easy to be just miserable, because it's a miserable situation, but that would be a terrible way for her to live. So her agency is to try everyday, like ‘I'm gonna try to make the best of it. I'm going to take the world.’ That's why she draws the world, it's her way to understand it. The agency that she has is to try to be happy in the situation.
Why did you decide to include Carla [Maddie's nurse] as a character? I loved her.
Maddie needed a nurse [in general], but she needed someone to help her see the world beside her mom. So it was practical, because her mom needed work and she needed someone to be there, but also, you know, show another perspective.
OLLY. Did you outline him, or did he sort of just come to you as you went on?
I had a pretty good idea - I don't like to outline that much. But Olly, I pictured the type of person who would fall in love with Maddie and that's how Olly came about. He's sort of attracted to her because he has such a dark home life and is kind of cynical about that. Here is this girl who has every reason to be cynical and miserable, but she's not. I think that's what attracts him to her in the first place.
So Olly really started out as who would fall in love with Maddy, who would find her charming. But no, I didn't write an outline because, I mean, I knew he was so cute and he wore all black. There are a lot of super cute boys who wear all black.
Well, exactly. How much research did you have to do on Maddy’s disease and all of the medical aspects involved with that?
So I did do a lot of research, but it's not like a medical book. I didn't enough research to know enough about it to know what she could and could not touch, the sort of practical things, but the book is really about living and not being sick, so all of the medical stuff doesn't really come into great detail. It's about what it means to be alive versus living.
I like that. Are you working on another book at the moment?
I am! I'm actually on deadline for my next book right now. I actually can't say that much about it, but there's love in it.
That's the most important part.
There's love, and yeah, that's what I get to say. [laughs]
Awesome. Thank you so much!
It was great talking to you!
Everything, Everything, out September 1st from Random House, has been honored as a Book Expo America Young Adult Buzz Panel selection, Indies Introduce Debut selection, #2 Indie Next Autumn 2015 selection, and starred reviews from Kirkus reviews School Library Journal.