February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nicola Yoon Spills “Everything, Everything” About Her YA Debut

Debut author Nicola Yoon’s much-buzzed-about Everything, Everything (Delacorte, 2015) about a teen girl born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) will officially release on September 1. Maddy’s stirring story of adversity, love, and the importance of living life to the fullest has already garnered multiple starred reviews (including one from School Library Journal) and a movie deal. Yoon talked with SLJ about her inspiration for the novel, her experience collaborating with her husband, and more.

everythingWhere did you get the idea for the novel? How long did it take for you to write?

I started writing Everything, Everything when my daughter was just four months old. I was a new mom, and I worried about everything! I worried about her getting a cold, eating dirt, or falling and bumping her head. My new mom protective instincts were in overdrive, and it got me thinking: What if there were a girl who needed constant protection, not just as a baby but for her whole life? What would that do to the relationship between the girl and her mom? What would happen when that girl got older and started wanting to form other relationships? It took me about two and a half years to write the book.

Did you always envision having Maddy’s artwork, the IMs, and other mixed-format elements in the novel?

I didn’t envision all the formats when I first started the book, but it happened pretty early on during the writing process. One morning I just had this thought that Maddy would draw the world as a way of trying to understand it. The first drawing that my husband did for me was of the Hawaiian state fish—the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. After that, all the other elements just sort of fell into place.

What was it like to collaborate with your husband? Did you discuss the images in the early stages, or did he illustrate once the manuscript was finished?

It was great! My husband and I get along very well, and he’s a fantastic artist. It was such a pleasure to work creatively with him. We worked together on the images as I was writing the book. Usually, it went like this: I would get to a place in the book where I thought an illustration would fit. I’d then draw my very terrible version of it. I’d show it to him and tell him what the image was (it wasn’t always clear!), and he’d draw something incredible and beautiful.

Which character do you most identify with?

I identify the most with Maddy. She’s really struggling with living life in the moment. It’s something I struggle with as well.


Photo credit: Sonya Sones

The protagonists, especially Maddy, are often caught in a “bubble” between living and half-living.  Why do you think this is a theme that today’s readers should embrace?

In today’s technological age, we do tend to have more mediated experiences. What I mean is, technology can sometimes get in the way of having real-life, authentic experiences. I often notice people taking picture after picture of something scenic. They’ll take the picture (usually with a phone) and spend most of the time looking at the phone to see how the picture came out instead of enjoying the actual scene. Believe me, I’m guilty of doing this too, but I do think it’s a way of only half-living in the world.

The swoon-worthy romance will of course thrill lots of teens. Were these scenes difficult to write for you?

Those were some of the easiest and my most favorite to write! I’m pretty swoony over my husband.

Did you have to do any research? (Like go to Hawaii?)

Hawaii is one of my favorite places. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon, and we’ve been there a couple of times since. I also did research on SCID.

Who have been some of your major author influences?

Too many to list! I’ll just name a few: Toni Morrison, Anne Beatty, Alice Munro, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger.

One of the photos that gained national attention when the We Need Diverse Books movement began in May 2014 was that of your biracial family. Do you believe that much has changed since then?

Yes, I really do think that some things have changed for the better! Just being able to have the conversation on a national level is a big and important step. Having said that, we still have a ways to go, especially with getting more representation at all levels of publishing.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on another YA book that I can’t say too much about, except to say that there’s love involved!

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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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  1. are you trying to teach anything by writing this book? And if so what is it ?