Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release: May 31, 2016
Nanette O'Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hardworking student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bugglegum Reaper—a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic—the rebel within Nanette awakens.Matthew Quick is a master of writing misfits. From the disillusioned protagonist of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, who rebels against the world of corporate monotony, to the free-spirited main character of Sorta Like a Rockstar, who finds her place among a group of social-sidelines friends, I have yet to meet a leading character in a Quick novel who doesn't deviate in a memorable and endearing way from society's norm.
As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that rebellion sometimes comes at a high price.
Every Exquisite Thing is no exception to this rule. Although Nanette has grown up in a life of comfort and privilege in suburban New Jersey, she cannot help feeling she doesn't fit in with her superficially-perfect-yet-emotionally-distant family, her friends whose interests differ vastly from hers, and most of all the expectations everyone places upon her. The result is a sometimes-heartrending, sometimes-relatable story about finding your place in a town full of people who urge you to become someone you're not.
Quick accomplishes Nanette's quirky characterization through a variety of interconnected methods: her identification with an out-of-print cult classic novel, her friendship with the book's reclusive author Nigel Booker (who conveniently lives in her South Jersey town), her possibly-romance with a boy she meets through the aforementioned author, and her own shifting feelings toward society. YA characters often undergo a major transformation due to a single event or person (almost always a romantic interest)—and while I have no problem with stories like this (except for possibly the "boyfriend waltzes in and immediately changes the protagonist's life" trope), I loved watching several related friendships and pursuits slowly changing a character's outlook. As Nanette begins to rebel against the expectations set for her, pulling away from her old friends, questioning whether or not her soccer talents outweigh her hatred toward playing, it is clear her growth is not brought on by an insular event. Instead, her reaction to The Bubblegum Reaper, the events that happen after she reads the story, and more combine to push her further and further toward the edge.
However, despite the connected complexity of Nanette's budding relationships and other experiences, I wanted a bit more depth in their individual descriptions. I wanted to know more about The Bubblegum Reaper, more details and quotes to make the plot seem more like a novel and less like a short story. I wanted to know more about Nanette's discussions with her favorite author, and I wanted her relationship with Alex, her newfound romantic interest, to feel a bit less like insta-love. The fact that the plot spans more than a year yet takes up fewer than 300 pages (causing some months to be skimmed over in a matter of sentences) could be the root of my vague dissatisfaction, or it could be that the author intentionally left time periods sparse, but I could not help finishing the book with the feeling that something was missing.
I can't complain too much, though, because somehow the light, brisk tone of Every Exquisite Thing makes the book feel more realistic. While not maximizing the plot's potential emotional power, the story's lack of deep, vivid descriptions leaves readers feeling like an outside observer watching Nanette from afar. This effect may bother readers who ache for strong connections with characters, but it also complements Nanette's growth, allowing her to distance herself from others—readers and fellow character alike—as she ponders who she is and what she wants out of life.
And best of all, Every Exquisite Thing is not merely a novel about interpersonal interactions; it is also a novel about the power and the role of literature—a book about books. Complete with an author who refuses to elaborate on his book's meaning or provide any sort of epilogue (a kinder version of Peter Van Houten from The Fault in our Stars), Quick's latest novel sparks plenty of questions about who characters and stories truly belong to, the impact literature can have on our lives, and the relevance of authorial intent. Although Nanette and her friends attribute several of their thoughts and actions to The Bubblegum Reaper, calling it a life-changing book, Booker insists his once-published novel is simply a story, and a silly one at that, offering at most entertainment value. Only readers can decide who is right, a task many will have already undertaken and that the rest will surely enjoy.
With offbeat characters facing universal teen issues like fitting in and questioning the future, Every Exquisite Thing is another winning Matthew Quick novel. It is different enough from his past work to stand out, yet similar enough to please old fans—and the added bookish element will especially appeal to those who have ever loved a story like Nanette loves The Bubblegum Reaper. Just as bright, lifelike, and unsure as its scribbled-title-meets-white-background cover, it is sure to resonate with teenagers of all kinds and leave them waiting with anticipation for the author's next inventive set of characters.