Published by HarperTeen on November 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Now Is Everything is a stirring debut novel told in alternating THEN and NOW chapters, perfect for Sarah Dessen and Jennifer Niven fans, about what one girl is willing to do to protect her past, present, and future.
The McCauleys look perfect on the outside. But nothing is ever as it seems, and this family is hiding a dark secret.
Hadley McCauley will do anything to keep her sister safe from their father. But when Hadley’s forbidden relationship with Charlie Simmons deepens, the violence at home escalates, culminating in an explosive accident that will leave everyone changed.
When Hadley attempts to take her own life at the hospital post-accident, her friends, doctors, family, and the investigator on the case want to know why. Only Hadley knows what really happened that day, and she’s not talking.
Trigger warning: Now is Everything is about child abuse and also features a brief but graphic moment of self-harm via a suicide attempt.
Whoo, what a disappointment! Now is Everything had me excited to begin with, seeing as it opens with Hadley being pulled from the scene of a plane crash followed by pieces of interviews with her friends as investigators try to figure out what caused the crash. It doesn’t stay good for long. Instead, it devolves into a book flatter than the paper it’s written on.
The characters are flat enough to be described by their roles rather than who they actually are. Hadley is the Main Character, Charlie the Boyfriend, Meaghan and Noah the Best Friends (Noah is the Gay Best Friend specifically), Claudia is the Slutty Mean Girl, and so on.
Claudia’s characterization is especially appalling. I’ve gotten used to YA books that break down the boundaries of the trope and make sure the antagonistic role is filled by a more nuanced character readers can’t dismiss so easily as the Mean Girl. Meanwhile, we have Claudia, who very openly offers Hadley’s boyfriend a blow job while she’s drunk.
Our most noteworthy example of bad characterization actually comes from Lila, Hadley’s angelic, precocious ten-year-old sister. Lila exists not as a character but as a plot device, something precious for Hadley to protect from their abusive, controlling father. There’s nothing wrong with her, but there’s nothing right either. I was dealing with bullies and getting my first school referral at ten, but Lila doesn’t seem to have anything of her own going on! She’s just kinda there and cute.
There is some merit to the book as an exploration of parent-child physical and emotional abuse, but when other books can approach the same issue and actually draw you in with the skilled writing and deft characterization, why bother with this one?
After half the book, I started skipping the more plentiful “Then” chapters to read the “Now” and it didn’t feel like I was missing much. I gathered what was going on: increasing tension between Hadley and her abusive father, her mom not helping, her little sister Lila being a sweet angel she wanted to protect, her friends and boyfriend being around, etc. But then Hadley realizes that her father is planning to make Lila “shape up” into a proper daughter now that she’s ten years old–the same age at which he literally beat Hadley into the perfect lacrosse-playing, plane-flying child he wanted, breaking her bones until what came back together was to his liking.
She’s not going to let precocious little Lila go through the same hell she did.
Set-ups like this are literally what Battered Woman Syndrome is made of! It promises a glimpse at how far an abused person will go to save either themselves or their most precious person–in Hadley’s case, Lila–from their abuser. In fact, we do see Hadley make preparations to do what she has to in order to keep Lila safe from years of beatings and conditioning and the loss of the little girl sweetness Hadley loves her so much for.
But at this pivotal moment that offers the one point of moral complexity in the entire book, we lose it all. View Spoiler »See, Hadley’s dad is deathly allergic to nuts. She bakes nutty muffins at home, cleans every last piece of cookware used to eliminate traces of nuts, and plans to switch out the muffins they typically get at the airport with her muffins when they fly. When he bites into one mid-flight, he’ll go into anaphylactic shock and the plane will crash, killing both him and Hadley herself.
Except her mom doesn’t stay home to take care of Lila like Hadley plans for her to and Hadley backs out of giving her dad the nutty muffins. She gets their usual airport muffins again, making sure to confirm there are no nuts in them to create her own “alibi” of sorts, but testing after the accident indicates those airport muffins actually did have nuts in them due to contamination at the plant they came from! It’s the third such case out of that plant, in fact.
So in the end, Hadley is absolved of her parents’ deaths and readers get the least interesting ending possible. Would it not have been more interesting for Hadley to give him the tainted muffin only for investigators to mistakenly attribute it to contamination at the plant the uneaten airport muffins came from? On the outside, Hadley expresses her relief at not being the one to kill him. Inside, she’s a tangle of emotions because she’s seriously getting away with murdering her abusive father.
It’s just such a weak ending after so much tension, pain, and build-up! « Hide Spoiler
There are better books out there that cover similar topics to Now is Everything, like Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore. Though it covers abuse by a sibling and drug addiction rather than abuse by a parent and the ending is similarly disappointing, its characters are more complex and the book remains memorable even a year and a half later! Even “tragedy porn” books like A List of Cages by Robin Roe does it better thanks to vivid characterization and an ending unafraid of letting characters suffer long-lasting consequences! Reader, you can easily find books more worth your time than this one.