I don’t entirely know how to feel about Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. I really liked the opening chapters, in which Nanette is given a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper, a weird, anti-establishment cult novel, and it quickly comes to influence every aspect of her life. I really dug the whole concept of finding that book that just speaks to you in every way; I also like books-within-books, and I found myself really wanting to read The Bubblegum Reaper, which is a shame because it isn’t real.
So Nanette gets obsessed with this book, which was given to her by her teacher, and meets the author, who is a standard weird, reclusive writer, refusing the discuss much about the book and rejecting appeals to publish it again. The writer becomes something of a father-figure to Nanette at a time when she feels increasingly distant from her own parents, and introduces her to Alex, another devotee, with whom she begins a romance. And then some crazy stuff happens.
I don’t really know what my problem was with Every Exquisite Thing, but I definitely had one. I didn’t particularly love the writing style, and this wasn’t helped when Nanette suddenly started narrating and talking about herself to other characters in the first person. I get why it was used as a device to show Nanette’s detachment from her own life, but it felt a bit obvious; it’s the kind of thing I’d point out to my students and they’d roll their eyes about it. So many contemporary YA novels focus on senior year, with college on the horizon, so it is refreshing to see a protagonist who isn’t sure about their future, and it’s certainly done in a more subtle way than another recent YA novel which also covered this ground, where I felt like I was being lectured by the author, rather than the characters; that’s not the case here.
I keep sighing while I’m writing this, because I really wanted to like it and sort of assumed that I would, and my overwhelming feeling of indifference at the end has annoyed me. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe it’s called ‘being 33.’ Ultimately, I feel like I would have preferred to read The Bubblegum Reaper, which sounds a bit like The Catcher in the Rye, rather than Every Exquisite Thing, which just wants to be like The Catcher in the Rye.