There really must be something about young adults and being trapped in the house. Maybe it’s about imagining things that are inaccessible? Or butting up against societal constraints on self and expression? Or probably in response to years of being grounded? Whatever the case this is the third YA novel I’ve read with the protagonist trapped in the house: this time it’s not agoraphobia, but instead SCID – an auto-immune disease that makes our protagonist, Madeline, a ‘bubble girl’ who has to live her life in the bubble of her house.
Of course she falls in love with the boy next door. And of course their love is universe-shattering in its completeness and beauty and perfection and star shaking. And of course how will they overcome the obstacle of her being trapped in the house?
I jest, I jest. The novel has some (barely) interesting ideas about what makes for a worthy life. The ‘surprise’ ending might have been interesting if it hadn’t been so obvious such that it felt like paging towards the inevitable. It has an intertextual thread about Flowers for Algernon in which it tries to make an argument about once you’ve experienced great love, or access to the whole wide world, or great love (did I mention their love is great?) whether it’s possible to go back to a life without this experience. And then another intertextual thread about The Little Prince in an effort to get at what you would sacrifice for love. The problem is that in both cases the referenced texts are SO MUCH BETTER than this one that I felt a little embarrassed for author, Nicola Yoon. .
Though she doesn’t need my sympathy. This book has sold a bazillion copies and everyone gushes over it. Because what could be more gush-worthy than another novel about a fragile teenage girl (who is actually gritty and real and full of gumption) rescuing a broken boy (who is actually complex and quirky and wears suitably black clothing).
The best part of the novel are the illustrations which capture some of the whimsy and magic that (if you’re to believe the narrative claims ostensibly) oozes from Madeline.
Call me cynical but I’m tired of reading YA about exceptional young people made exceptional by life threatening disease or heartbreaking tragedy. I don’t think it’s necessary to put protagonists in the direct path of death in order to build narrative suspense, or to cultivate sympathy, or to generate character development. I think it’s lazy writing because it preys on a reader’s sympathies in a way that is both emotionally manipulative and cheap.
I am less tired of reading how all of these exceptional young people also love to read and read all the time. I suppose it’s speaking to its audience (any kid reading this novel is probably reading all the time, too, and so is gratified to identify with the quirky protagonist by way of her reading all the time), but I don’t mind. By making reading cool this novel succeeds in this one, tiny, thing. And certainly does this #makingreadinggreatagain better than this blog.