Disability in ‘Everything Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

Last Wednesday, I posted some thoughts on changing my mind about books, particularly ‘Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. When I first read this novel, I raved about how much I enjoyed it and appreciated the representation of people of colour and that it included a character with a disability/chronic health condition. I was uncomfortable with the ending but my love for the rest of the book outweighed that. Since I first posted that review, I’ve thought a lot about the way disability is portrayed and the more I’ve thought about it, the more uncomfortable and upset it has made me.

In ‘Everything, Everything’, Maddie has an immune disorder known as SCID which means she can not go outside or she would become seriously ill. However, at the end of the novel, it is revealed that Maddie never had this condition and she is in fact, perfectly healthy. It is this revelation that allows her to be with her boyfriend and have a ‘happy ending’.

This is an incredibly frustrating trope in literature where a character who is living with a disability is suddenly cured and all their problems are solved. Not only is this a very unrealistic portrayal of people who live with disability/chronic illness (that’s not to say it never happens but many people with a disability or chronic illness will have said condition for the majority if not all of their lives) but it sends the message that people can never be truly happy whilst they have a disability. I can tell you first hand that this simply isn’t the case.

The fact that this kind of representation was included in a Young Adult novel is even more troubling. Young people with disabilities who read novels which contain this kind of representation of people with disabilities will start to believe that having a disability devalues them as people and makes their life less worthwhile. There is so much negativity surrounding disability in the world and for many, literature and fiction is a safe place to turn to where they can feel accepted. How can this be the case for young people with disabilities when they are quite literally erased from stories?

As somebody who has lived with a disability all my life, I completely understand the frustration that comes with having to miss out on things as a direct result of my disability. There is a fine line between not letting your life be defined by your disability and accepting where your limitations are. However, the message of ‘Everything Everything’ is very clearly ‘living with a disability isn’t living’. Maddie is persuaded to leave her house and run away with her boyfriend because he can’t handle dating someone with a disability. Dating and relationships are difficult enough to navigate with a disability, we don’t need books telling us how difficult we are to love.

I genuinely believe Nicola Yoon was trying to portray a character who is not defined by her disability which I really do appreciate – we need more stories like that! However, it’s execution was not successful. I’d be interested to know how much research was done into disability whilst she was writing the book. Did she run this story past anyone with a disability first?

After seeing the trailer, it seems those ableist messages are even more prominent than the film. This is hardly surprising when you realise it was made by the same people who gave us ‘Me Before You’.

What are your thoughts on disability in ‘Everything Everything’? Have you seen the film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Write with Me #1

Reading will always be my first love, there is no doubt about that. But, something I love almost as much, is writing. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of having a story of my own published and, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to write said stories. As of yet, none of them have been bestseller material, although three-year-old Ellie was particularly proud of one short story about a woman who made a casserole for a lost cat!

After years of trying to write stories and failing when I eventually realise my idea isn’t good enough or life just gets too busy to keep writing, I think I’ve finally settled on a good idea that I love. I’m famous for starting things but never finishing them, it’s a frustrating trait and I’m determined for this time to be different. My plan is, that on the last Wednesday of every month, I’ll post an update about my writing as well as tips or things that I’ve noticed and learnt about the writing process. I’m hoping that this will help to motivate me to keep writing. I’ve seen booktubers do similar projects and it seems to work really well so hopefully, it will help me too.

If you are in a similar situation and are trying to find the motivation to keep writing, hopefully, this series will help you. I’d love to hear how you are getting on as well. We’re all in this together! Or, perhaps you’re just interested in seeing how I get on. If that’s the case, strap yourself in because I guarantee, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Untouchable Classics

In my post about 1984 by George Orwell, I mentioned that I don’t much like reviewing classic novels as I get very nervous about missing important themes or just not ‘getting it’. There seems to be an air of untouchability surrounding classic novels that only the best and most experienced literary scholars are qualified to pass judgement on them.

I follow a lot of bloggers and am always updating my GoodReads page (plug). Whenever I finish a book I read through reviews on GoodReads of all different star ratings. It’s not because I don’t know what to say myself, I’m just interested to see if my views meet up with fellow readers. What I’ve noticed recently, is that reviews on classic novels are almost always rated four or five stars. Those reviews that are rated lower are often met with a barrage of comments about misunderstanding the text. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this before. I can remember hearing somebody say they found Pride and Prejudice boring. My instant reaction was to think they clearly hadn’t read it correctly (as if there’s a right and a wrong way to read books!) or they just hadn’t understood what Austen was writing about.

Of course, books are given the title of classics for a reason, literary scholars have deemed it to have exceptional qualities. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to enjoy it. It seems so obvious to say – even as I’m writing this post I’m thinking ‘Do I even need to say this?’ – but there still seems to be a certain tradition of judging people who do not enjoy classic books. As though they are not ‘smart enough’ to appreciate them. This attitude is exclusionary and frankly, snobbish. Books are open to everybody – it’s why I love reading so much. Writing is an art form and I think it is widely agreed that art is open to individual interpretation.

Novels can be ‘good literature’ whilst still faults, particularly in regards to the portrayal of minority groups. For example, ‘Jane Eyre’ is my favourite classic yet the way it portrays race is troubling. Of course, these things should be viewed within the context of their time but age should not exempt anyone or anything from fair and honest criticism.

Over the past few years, I have tried several times to read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get on with it. Something about Bronte’s style and the way most of the speech is written in the Yorkshire dialect puts me off, every time. That’s not to say ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a bad book, far from it! It is often regarded as being one of the greatest novels of all time and it is impossible to ignore the way Bronte’s writing changed the face of British literature, particularly gothic literature. Regardless, I did not enjoy reading it and, as I often say when I feel pressured to finish a book, life is too short to read books you don’t like. Just because I didn’t enjoy a book, doesn’t make it bad, and just because a book is widely regarded a classic, that doesn’t mean that everybody has to like it.

What are your thoughts on the way we treat classics? Let me know what you think in the comments!