Everything: isn’t that what readers look for in a book? Many authors think so.
One suggests that Everything Leads to You. Another insists that Everything Was Goodbye. (Nina LaCour and Gurjinder Basran)
One begs Tell Me Everything, while another is concerned with Everything I Never Told You. (Sarah Salway and Celeste Ng)
One announces that They Left Us Everything, which is perfect for the one who thinks that All We Want Is Everything. (Plum Johnson and Andrew E. Sullivan)
Two recent YA novels confront “everything” head on: Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies and Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything.
These are novels about everything: life and death, love and loss, friendship and betrayal, desire and disappointment.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies is saturated with Jude’s voice: direct and sassy, smart and provocative.
Jude draws a heart in the steam on the mirror after his shower and wears red lipstick so he is always ready for his close-up. Everyday he stars in a movie in his mind, because reality is harsh and unforgiving. (In some ways, Raziel Reid’s novel is quintessential CanLit.)
“I’m going to end up the next Matthew Shepard!”
“You wish you were that famous.”
When the novel dips into more philosophical territory, it creates a space for readers with a variety of reasons for reading. “And I loved lies because, when you’re a lie, you’re anything, you’re everything.”
One could envision a brightly coloured poster, the sort that might be stuck to a guidance counsellor’s office wall. “When you have nothing, you have dreams.”
Or, one could delve into a serious discussion of the role of celebrity and fantasy in the lives of everyday teenagers in this millennium.
It is a novel of extremes, which is partly rooted in Jude’s point-of-view and partly a nod to an adolescent audience. Jude’s observations about the world are dramatic, but they are born from the truth of his experiences.
It is this contradictory style, both in-your-face and chameleon-like, which invites a wide variety of readers into Jude’s story.
A solitary narrator’s perspective, the lens focussed on a single person and a single voice, can leave readers feeling claustrophobic or like intimate friends.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies is the director’s cut of Jude’s life and Everything Everything is all about Maddy.
Maddy’s narrative is comprised partly from observations made in her own voice and partly from diary entries and other supplementary text and images, from online chats to screenshots. (Nicola Yoon’s husband contributed the drawings in the book and they reveal Maddy’s playful side.)
She, like Jude, is animated and clever, observant and funny. Her review of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies reads as follows: “Boys are savages.”
Maddy, too, is struggling with a number of issues surrounding her identity. She experiences isolation and loneliness in a very concrete way because she hasn’t left her house in seventeen years.
Ironically, she lives under her mother’s care for a medical condition which could put her life at risk, and this situation creates the same kind of alienation that Jude experiences, even though he is out in the very world which Maddy longs for.
In both novels, the question of wanting and the taut thread of desire dominate, in both concrete and metaphysical forms, whether it manifests as a raw yearning or a silent ache.
Maddy and Jude long for a kind of intimacy which is denied to them in their everyday lives. They are solitary figures, viewing the objects of their desire from a distance, forced to imagine what it would be like to have everything.
The epigraph to Nicola Yoon’s debut is drawn from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Anything and everything: regardless of age, many readers respond to a fundamental exploration of identity, a sudden and disturbing realization that the essential is undeniable.
Even if the specific details which reside in these characters’ hearts do not resonate with readers’ personal experiences, the underlying questions (love and longing and everything) invite readers to relate. And urgently too: both Raziel Reid and Nicola Yoon have paid attention to their novels’ pacing and structure: When Everything Feels Like the Movies and Everything Everything are hard to put aside (even after reading).
“A week later, something startles me awake. I sit up. My head is foggy with sleep but my heart is awake and racing. It knows something that my head doesn’t yet know.”
Maybe Life Is About Losing Everything (Lynn Crosbie).
Or maybe Everybody Has Everything (Katrina Onstad).
But When Everything Feels like the Movies, then Everything Everything matters: readers’ hearts and minds want to know.
Stories: they mean everything.