Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 9780316379595.
High school junior Nanette is on a well-planned track to her future. She’s good at school and amazing at soccer, and she’ll soon have colleges fighting to pay her way. Then her English teacher gives her a xeroxed copy of The Bubblegum Reaper. The novel is pretty simple, about a high-school boy who decides he wants to “just quit,” but it changes Nanette’s life. Her teacher ends up introducing her to the reclusive author, who took the book out of print after one too many people used it to justify shootings. The author introduces her to Little Lex, an intense poet her age and also an ardent fan of the book. Nanette falls in love and makes huge changes in her life, at a high price.
This story did not go where I thought it would, or where I was afraid it would. Nanette’s life and sense of self change drastically and painfully in totally believable ways, and she’s surprised by who is willing to stick with her and who isn’t. Quick brings in some hallmarks of his other books: a quirky person who has something significant to share (a cop who wears a ribbon on his finger in memory of his young son who was murdered) and a therapist who helps the protagonist find the strength she needs. (Nanette’s doctor, who recommends that she speak about herself in the third person to help her take better care of her own needs.) Nanette does, and it changes how about a third of the story is written. It’s touching and hilarious.
Someone giving a protagonist the book that changes their life can feel a little bit like pandering to teachers and librarians, but Every Exquisite Thing is more about finding what you need to change your life and how painful that can be. It’s also about feeling locked into a particular path because it’s what’s expected of you: one of Nanette’s realizations is that she doesn’t actually enjoy soccer, even though she’s very good at it. It’s that aspect that makes me want to ensure I’ve always got a copy available for the kids who need it.