I’ll admit that I’ve developed a soft spot for YA books and movies. Half of the time, they make me roll my eyes and wonder how this generation can put up with its own self-aggrandizing. The other half of the time, I’m tapping into my insecure teenage self who had dreams of conquering the world and finding fairy tale love. When I stifle my eyerolls for half a second, I’m reminded that growth and maturity is something we all go through.
But what does it take to create young adult fiction? It’s the question I asked Nicola Yoon last week when I met her at the Mom 2.0 Summit talking about the upcoming release of the movie Everything, Everything based on her bestselling book of the same name.
Nicola, a Jamaican woman married to a Korean-American man, started writing this book when her daughter (who is now 5 years old) was only 4 months old.
First of all, I’m wondering how any new mom has the energy to do anything besides exist. Secondly, how does someone so far removed from the teen experience write a novel that has swept teenage America by storm?
It’s simple according to Nicola. Teenagers are naturally philosophical, questioning the why of everything, and so is Nicola.
I received a copy of the book (signed by the author!) and vowed to read it before I attended the scheduled preview of the movie. And while it is a quick and easy read, I only made it about halfway through before I attended the screening (I’ve since finished it).
This left me in a unique predicament. I knew the general story. I’d gotten to know all of the characters and had embraced them all but I didn’t know the twist. And for that, I’m grateful.
(Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil anything for you in case you haven’t read it).
But this caused a problem for me while I was watching the movie.
It started out pleasantly enough. We get to know Maddy (played by the incredibly adorable Amandla Stenberg) and the positive female relationships she has with her mother, Pauline (played by Anika Noni Rose) and her nurse Carla (played by Ana de la Reguera). Imagine that! A teenage girl that actually likes her mother!
Then we get to know the equally adorable Olly (played by Nick Robinson). Looking for angry, brooding teenagers in this film? You won’t find them!
If you’re not familiar with the story, Maddy is a lifelong sufferer of SCID, a severe immunity disorder that basically makes her allergic to the world. As a result, she’s kept in a hermetically sealed environment for all of her 18 years. Once she meets Olly and falls in love, she decides she’d rather risk her life to really live than die in a bubble without having experienced life.
So she leaves on an adventure with Olly. And here’s where the movie almost lost me.
As someone who had essentially never left her house, she jumps right into the germ pit of living: at an airport, on an airplane, in the ocean (these are things you can deduce from the movie trailer). And I’m saying to myself, Come on. I was a biology major, after all, and I’m having major issues with the miraculous healing brought about by love.
And then the twist happens.
That’s all I’ll say but I’m really glad I hadn’t gotten to that part in the book yet because seeing it in the movie with no prior knowledge makes it shocking and even gut-wrenching.
Since finishing the book, I’ll say that overall, it’s a super fun read and the movie absolutely does it justice. It’s got a little teenage angst and will definitely make you a tad philosophical. But it’s a creative story that covers not only relatable teenage ideals like young love but also the complexities of a parent-child relationship.
It’s no wonder that the audience was full of moms and their teen and tween daughters. It’s a little on the softer side but I’m willing to bet that even boys would get something out of this.
One last note: If you’re looking for a movie that touches on diversity, this isn’t it. But that’s what I loved about it. Nicola said that when writing her book, she wanted diversity to be part of the background, not the focus, because she believes people should read (and see) stories that reflect the world around them.
Recommended for: Mothers and tween or teen daughters, teenage friends
Discussion points: Some kids might want to know more about SCID or immune disorders. Be prepared to discuss death and loss, abuse, and growing and letting go. There’s also a scene with Maddy and Olly with implied intimacy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars; A creative story beautifully captured on film.