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The Glimmering Sheen Of A Wide World Seen From Inside A Bubble

Aug 30, 2015

Teenagers often feel bound by their parents' rules, and many young people feel isolated at some point, separated from the rest of the world.

But what would life be like for a young woman who was literally isolated — and bound by rules designed to save her life?

It's a question that author Nicola Yoon explores in her new novel for young adults, Everything, Everything. For 18 years, her lead character, Madeleine, has been kept inside a sterile house, interacting only with her mother and her nurse.

"She's not sure exactly what she's allergic to — so they take no risks," Yoon tells NPR's Arun Rath. "They basically live in a bubble."

All of Madeleine's teenage angst, desire and rebellion must eddy within those limits. Her story is told through prose, diary entries, text messages, online chats and even illustrations — and all the while, the reader is inside Maddy's head.

"There are all these boundaries that she wants to push against," Yoon says. "She's a normal teenager in an extraordinary situation."


Interview Highlights

On the way Madeleine relates to the wider world outside

Madeleine is in her house, and she sort of daydreams out the window sometimes. And one day a moving truck comes by, and a new family moves in. This supercute boy comes out. He's dressed in black. He does parkour, so he's very physical in a way that Madeleine is not. You know, he's very a part of his body, whereas her body sort of traps her — so she immediately notices him across the street. ...

In the book there are a lot of text messages and IMs, lists and charts, and they eventually get in touch via email and then IM. And then they started to fall in love.

On Maddy's attitude toward her condition

I thought it was important to make her a person that has accepted her life as it is. Because it would be hard for her to be angry and rail against this disease for 18 years, right? I mean, it's the only way for her to cope. So, I mean, I think a lot of teenagers will relate to trying to push against your parents' boundaries. Madeleine has an extreme situation, but I feel like teenagers all go through this.

On the awkward early moments of Maddy's budding relationship

Those were the most fun parts to write, I have to tell you. I'm totally in love with my husband; I'm, like, crazy about him. So writing about falling in love, and remembering the awkwardness of when I first met him, that was pretty fun and pretty easy to write.

On incorporating illustrations drawn by her husband, David

I write from 4 to 6 a.m. in the morning. When I first started writing, [my daughter] was 4 months old, and that was the time I had to write.

And I had this idea that Maddy would draw her world as a way to understand it. And I cannot draw. So I drew this terrible rendition of the Hawaiian state fish, which is called the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

I went to my bedroom and David was still asleep, and I woke him up and it was 4 a.m. and I was like, "Honey, will you please, please draw this fish for me?"

And he got up! He made coffee, he gave me a kiss and he drew the fish. And that is the fish that is in the book to this day. That's what started sort of those nontraditional elements in the book.

On Maddy's multicultural background

I think we live in a very diverse world, and we need to represent that world that we live it. There are a lot of beautiful people in the world, and they need to get counted. They need to be the heroes in stories, as well.

I'll say, for me, it's very personal. I'm African-American, my husband's Korean-American, our daughter's mixed. When I grew up, I didn't really see myself in stories, and it was important for me, for my daughter to be able to see herself in stories, as well.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

For 18 years, a girl named Madeleine has been kept inside a sterile house, interacting only with her mother and her nurse. She's the main character in Nicola Yoon's new novel for young adults called "Everything, Everything."

NICOLA YOON: Essentially, my main character Madeleine is allergic to the entire world. So she's not sure exactly what she's allergic to, so they take no risks. They basically live in a bubble.

RATH: But even though she's cut off, the bubble she lives in is full of teenage angst. Yoon tells Madeleine's story through prose, diary entries, text messages, online chats, even illustrations. We are inside her head.

YOON: There are all these boundaries that she wants to push against, so she's a normal teenager in an extraordinary situation.

RATH: This is a novel for young adults, and there is - there's a first love in this. But it's rendered so much more intense - I mean, young love is always intense - but it's got this extra intensity because of her condition.

YOON: Right. So Madeleine is in her house, and she sort of daydreams out the window sometimes. And one day, a moving truck comes by, and a new family moves in. And there's - super-cute boy comes out. He's dressed in black. He does parkour so he's very physical in a way that Madeleine is not. You know, he's very a part of his body; whereas her body sort of traps her. So she immediately notices him across the street.

RATH: And even though they have the isolation, obviously, we live in an age of social media so they're able to get in touch, ultimately.

YOON: Right. So yeah, in the book, there are a lot of text messages and IM's, lists and charts, and they eventually get in touch via email and then IM. And then they started to fall in love.

RATH: What's kind of compelling is that Madeleine - Maddy, in spite of her condition, she is so relatable.

YOON: Yeah, I thought it was important to make her a person that has accepted her life as it is. I mean, because it would be hard for her to be angry and rail against this disease for 18 years, right? I mean, and it's the only way for her to cope. So, I mean, I think a lot of teenagers will relate to, you know, trying to push against your parents' boundaries. Madeleine has an extreme situation, but I feel like teenagers all go through this.

RATH: It kind of draws into relief some of those universal things. I like when they're - there's obviously, because of her condition, there's an awkwardness about negotiating their physicality. But that's something that everybody goes through (laughter) in a way as well.

YOON: Right. Those are, like, the most fun parts to write. I have to tell you (laughter). I'm, like, totally in love with my husband. I'm, like, crazy about him. So, like, writing about falling in love - and I'm remembering the awkwardness of when I first met him. That was pretty fun and pretty easy to write.

RATH: He's sitting right in the other room so you have to say nice things about him.

YOON: Right. And he's super-cute, and I do have to say nice things (laughter).

RATH: And while you're - while we're talking about your husband, David, this book - the novel incorporates graphic elements or illustrations...

YOON: Right.

RATH: ...You know, things that are drawn by Maddy and documents. And your husband David did those, right?

YOON: Yeah, he did those. I'll tell you a story. So I write from 4 to 6 a.m. in the morning.

RATH: Huh.

YOON: Yeah.

RATH: Well, you have a kid so that kind of explains that (laughter) for me.

YOON: Right. Right. When I first started writing, she was four months old, and that was the time I had to write. And I had this idea that Maddy would draw her world as a way to understand it. And I cannot draw, so I drew this terrible rendition of the Hawaiian state fish, which is called the humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa. And I went to my bedroom, and David was still asleep. And I woke him up, and it was 4 a.m. And I was like, honey, will you please, please draw this fish for me. And he got up, he made coffee, he gave me a kiss, and he drew the fish. And that is the fish that's in the book to this day. And that's what's started sort of those nontraditional elements in the book.

RATH: It's a fairly tiny detail in the book that Maddy is biracial. She's half African-American, she's half Asian. But it's not really a factor in the story at all. So why include that detail?

YOON: I think we live in a very diverse world, and we need to represent that world that we live in. There are a lot of beautiful people in the world, and they need to get counted. They need to be the heroes in stories as well. I'll say for me, it's very personal because, you know, I'm African-American, my husband is Korean-American, our daughter is mixed. When I grew up, I didn't really see myself in stories, and it's important for me for my daughter to be able to see herself in stories as well.

RATH: If this had an option to be made into a film, you know, it would be nice to see some of that on the screen, too.

YOON: It would be just wonderful. What a beautiful thing that would be.

RATH: Nicola Yoon's amazing new novel "Everything, Everything" is out on Tuesday. It's been a great pleasure speaking with you. Thank you.

YOON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.