Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 320 (ARC)
Source: BEA 2015
This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.
My 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.
I read this book a few weeks before I initially planned to because my book club decided it would be our end of August read. I am so beyond happy that we chose this book! It is everything, everything I wanted it to be and more.
Madeline is sick. And when I saw sick, I mean really sick. She can't step outside because she's basically allergic to the world. She lives at home with her mother, attends architecture school online via Skype, and only has human contact with her nurse, Carla, when her mother isn't around. She loves to read and writes one sentence spoiler reviews which makes her a girl after my own heart that would totally rock at Twitter. She finds comfort in repetition: always eating French food for dinner on Fridays, playing her mother in the same board games every night, making all the furniture in her bedroom and most of her clothing white. Repetition is safe. But then a new family moves in next door and she realizes that comfort isn't always the best.
Olly and his family are much different than Madeline's. They are loud, complicated, different, and not at all comfortable. Olly is a kind character (total book boyfriend material) that is naturally curious. He is into parkour (and has a decent body because of it), only dresses in black, recognizes that his mother's Bundt cakes are nearly indestructible, and finds beauty in not using proper grammar. His sister, Kara, smokes cigarettes and buries the butts in her mother's garden every morning. Her mother always uproots the cigarettes while sighing dramatically. And his father is a drunk that screams a lot and sometimes decides that physical measures have to be taken. His family is complicated, and I like how the book touches upon such subjects to educate certain readers.
But back to Olly. He is naturally fascinated by the beautiful interracial girl next door (points for diversity!) that refuses to come outside to see him and instead stares at him through her window. When he manages to exchange e-mail addresses with her by writing on his window, he doesn't realize that he's about to change her life. Madeline has never cared for anyone despite her mother and her nurse, and has never had any contact with anyone but them and her tutors, so she quickly realizes that a risk would disrupt her comfortable lifestyle, but it may be worth it. And all too soon does she learn that Olly is the type of boy that she (and readers) will fall in love with, and that it would undoubtedly be a disaster.
Due to Madeline's unique upbringing, we are given a really interesting voice. Her voice is simple, supremely sweet, and young in a good way. She's never been exposed to the outside world and complex relationships, so she spends a lot of time communicating via pictures, doodles, one sentence spoiler book reviews, and haikus. She has big dreams about the world and often tells us about them in metaphors and boils even the most complex emotions down to simple means that can appeal to readers both young and old. While young voices in complex plot-lines don't always mesh well, I have to say Yoon managed this one perfectly.
This book takes us on adventures, which is surprising given the fact that our main character has never seen the outside world. But it's amazing what love and confidence can inspire a person to do. I wouldn't change a thing about the plot, but I would change the pacing. The book was great, all the way up until the end. Let's just say there's a truth bomb detonated that is ridiculous and it alters the entire flow of the story. A big deal, you know? Well, the consequences of said bomb are wrapped up ridiculously fast in a rushed fashion that caused me to lack the connection to the story that I felt for the first 95% of the novel. I liked how the author chose to end it and the complicated path our characters took to get there, but I didn't really get to enjoy the end of the story because of the pacing. But that's really my only complaint.
I recommend this book to readers looking for a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming read with a diverse cast of characters that makes the best out of the worst situations and can leave you laughing and begging for more. Yoon has done the unthinkable by taking a character that has a one in a billion disease and finding ways for readers to relate to her. With a romance to root for, ridiculous character growth, and an all-around light aura despite touching upon some heavy subjects, I think any reader could find themselves enjoying this one.
FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this honest review.