My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, but you know it as “bubble baby disease.”
Basically, I’m allergic to the world. Anything can trigger a bout of sickness. It could be the chemicals in the cleaner used to wipe the table that I just touched. It could be someone’s perfume. It could be the exotic spice in the food I just ate. It could be one, or all, or none of these things, or something else entirely. No one knows the triggers, but everyone knows the consequences. According to my mom I almost died as an infant. And so I stay on SCID row. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years.
I can’t even imagine living a life like this, but so is the life of Madeline “Maddy” Whittier, eighteen years old, very sick and isolated from the world. She is the protagonist in Nicola Yoon’s novel which I could barely put down.
I’ve been lucky. The last time I was in the hospital for anything even remotely serious was when I was a baby and had pneumonia. I have no idea what it feels like to be chronically sick but reading Maddy’s story made me hyperventilate at times. Maddy never, ever gets to go outside. If she does, she could die. No one comes over, except for her tutors and Maddy’s nurse Carla, who has been watching over her young charge for years. Maddy has never been to the beach, to the park, to an amusement park. She knows nothing about catching fireflies at night in summer, playing outside until the streetlamps come on, or climbing a tree. She has never had friends or a boyfriend. And then she meets Olly.
As if Maddy’s predicament isn’t hard enough, the new neighbors move in next door and one of them is a boy who will change her life. Olly is cute, rebellious, smart, and apparently, Spider-Man. The kid is agile! But he’s also Maddy’s saving grace, as she realizes that sometimes, taking risks can be a good thing.
I read this novel pretty quickly and it was such a great read. There are some breaks in the text consisting of either doodles, drawings or IMs between Olly and Maddy. The breaks were welcome, especially the ones that dove more deeply into how Maddy felt about her illness, her isolation and her ever-growing feelings for Olly. I felt for her and wondered if I would have been able to handle her situation. I know how much I love my freedom and I’m not sure I would have been as brave. But the way Ms. Yoon wrote this story made Maddy’s situation real to me. The twist in the story was a bit shocking, but Maddy’s reaction to it was not.
Although I normally don’t like sequels unless the story is series-worthy, I would love to know more about Maddy. Until that happens, I plan on seeing the movie adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson and Anika Noni Rose, which is in theaters now.