A few years back, I won a free copy of Everything, Everything through Goodreads giveaways. It really angered me at the time, and watching the film recently only renewed that. I realise that I’m very late to the party on this one, but it seemed like something that belonged on Blogolepsy. This review contains spoilers.
As someone who suffers from a severe nut allergy, I was incredibly curious as to how the life of the girl in this book was going to be portrayed. As detailed in this post, many people underestimate the precautions required when living with an allergy as severe as mine, and I was looking forward to seeing that represented somewhere mainstream. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
There were several issues that I had with the main body of the story. I found the lack of attention she paid to some things careless compared to even my own, and I’m not even allergic to everything. For example, the same clothes are worn in and out of the house, not to mention that she doesn’t check what Olly has eaten before kissing him. Despite this, the book is told in a way that makes this seem as if it’s the correct procedure – Maddy comments on how restrictive it is – and could easily convince someone who doesn’t have the same issues that this is the height of carefulness.
Yes, these prove that she was well all along, but that isn’t explained enough. It only contributes to the misconceptions around severe allergies. To link this back to Lydia’s post about representation, it feels like an uncomfortable exploitation of allergies to support some weird teen suicide romance, or at least that’s how it would have been if not for the cop-out of ‘OH MY GOD SHE WAS NEVER REALLY ALLERGIC TO ANYTHING’. By depicting unsafe situations as a display of ‘romance’, yet again a young audience is reminded of the outdated trope that romance is the be all and end all.
The idea of ‘I’ve seen this boy once and now I would literally risk my life for him’ is unhealthy, and one I will always refute in YA fiction. As someone who grew up surrounded by this trope, I know how easy it is to confuse that for reality, because it really is everywhere. I wanted this book to be better than that, because most people with severe allergies really can’t afford the risks of that notion. Again, I was disappointed.
Not to mention that this feeds the idea that people with allergies are being ridiculously over-careful. It’s bad enough being lumped in with the lifestyle free-from crowd without giving people more hypochondriac-type fuel. In a conversation about this book, a friend unironically asked if she thought this was my situation, despite having seen multiple reactions. Having to train any potential partner in the meticulous procedures is hard enough without miseducating them.
Everything, Everything isn’t alone for thoughtlessly handling allergies; the children’s film Peter Rabbit was released not long after this one, and it portrayed deliberately causing a reaction as a victory over the villain. When aiming fiction at young people, it’s irresponsible not to mention the facts and the very real dangers somewhere. Even if a doctor had just explained how Maddy should have known sooner, the ending would have just been ableist and not downright dangerous.
A much better storyline would have been Maddy realising that, despite her disability and all the issues that come with it, she can live a fulfilling life. NOT that she had to overcome it to live a ‘real’ life. I wanted to see Olly learning the safety procedures, the resourcefulness of free from baking, scouring online for hours to find anything free from her allergens, and then getting really excited when she does.
Also, I don’t understand books that spoil other books. Fair enough if it’s vital for symbolism or the plot, but it just wasn’t. If you haven’t yet read Flowers for Algernon or The Little Prince, don’t read this one.
Because I don’t like being wholly negative about something that someone has spent time on, I have to acknowledge that it’s written with a beautiful, insightful voice through a strong character (when she’s not around Olly). While my personal preference is not to have pictures throughout a book like this, it worked in this case, and they really added to the gentle style of the story. And yes, we should be supporting books that celebrate diversity, but not when they do so while exploiting another minority.
In case you were wondering, you won’t find this on our reading list. However, next time one of us writes how not to write disabilities or allergies, the likelihood is that this will appear.