Monday 16 August 2021

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Review: Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

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Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

Published: 25th July 2017 | Publisher: HarperTeen | Source: Bought
Katrina Leno's Website

Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety, and when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner.

Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers.

In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Soon, Lottie’s trying some writing of her own, leaping off cliffs, and even falling for a boy she’s only just met. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.
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I was really looking forward to reading Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, but I finished with mixed feelings. While on the one hand, it was really poignant and sweet, and had wonderful anxiety rep, on the other there was a whole subplot that I think kind of spoilt it.

Lottie's Aunt Helen - the famous author of much acclaimed and adored Alvin Hatter series - has died of breast cancer. While it's not a surprise, Helen didn't have too much time between diagnosis and death, and her family are absolutely devastated. Helen was a big part of their family's life, having a close relationship with Lottie and her brother Abe, and they're struggling with their grief. But in her will, among other things, Helen has left letters for Lottie to help her deal with her grief, and also to help her with her anxiety. Helen knows that Lottie is going to find her death hard to deal with, and having experienced anxiety herself, has written these letters with tasks for Lottie to complete - some big, some small - to help her through this experience.

I really loved the premise of Everything All at Once; it's Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan meets P.S. I Love You by Celia Ahern, and it was just really gorgeous. It's so incredibly poignant, and it really touched me to start with. I absolutely adored the relationship between Helen and Lottie and her brother Abe. It's not often that we see close familial relationships outside of siblings and parent/child relationships, so this was really beautiful. It's clear through Helen's letters just how much she loved Lottie, and how much she and Abe meant to her, and it really touched me. I have a particularly close relationship with one of my uncles, and I could see that love reflected here. But then add to it that Helen has died, and it becomes such a painful story. But there is a little light, through Helen's letters. I felt like Helen really had important things to say. While the letters were for Lottie, she actually talks about things and gives advice that is beneficial to everyone, and I got quite a bit out of them, too. The combination of the heaviness of grief in this book, that you can't help but feel, and the Helen's messages from beyond the grave, made it feel like this is going to be one of those books that means something, that stays with you long after end, whose words effect you. It's one of those books that really touches you.

But half way through, I got a migraine and had to stop reading for five days. Once I picked the book up again, it lost some of what I felt before the migraine. The focus became a little more about the secret Helen was going to eventually reveal in a few letters time, and a blossoming romance between Lottie and Sam, a boy Helen used to teach - a romance I didn't really feel. The subplot surrounding Helen's secret felt really unnecessary to me. It's the fantasy element that makes Everything All at Once more in line with Leno's other novels. It was really, really obvious, and I'm amazed Lottie didn't see it coming - except, you know, fantasy isn't an actual part of life, so why would she really? But it's that obvious that while it may have been shocking, it shouldn't have been a surprise. But predictability aside, I really didn't like it. It didn't add anything to the story at all, and it didn't fit. A story about grief and family and anxiety and finding your feet... and this weird little fantasy bit. It was as ridiculous as it was predictable, once the hints started, and I just have no idea why it was there. In my opinion, Everything All at Once should have stayed a contemporary. I honestly think this part of the story makes a mockery of the earlier poignancy and touching words.

I did love the representation of anxiety, though. Lottie has panic attacks and spiraling thoughts - particularly about death and dying, fixating on researching different deaths, though this is off page - and as someone with anxiety, I really appreciated how well done this was. Her anxiety at times could be completely overwhelming, but it also showed that it's not all-consuming, too, even if it is pretty constant. I loved that. It was also a diverse story in other ways; Lottie and Abe are half Peruvian, and Lottie's best friend, Em, is lesbian.

I adored how Helen was an author. She was a famous author of a series of well-loved children's fantasy books. While Lottie and her family mourned the death of their aunt/sister/sister-in-law, so the world mourned a beloved author whose books meant so much to them. Everything All at Once includes extracts from Helen's Alvin Hatter series, with each extract relating somewhat to either what Helen was going to tell Lottie to do next, or what Lottie feels/experiences while doing that next thing. I was actually really intrigued by the whole Alvin Hatter series, and wish the series actually existed. It also really hurt to read about all these people mourning this beloved author whose children's fantasy books meant so much to them as they grew up, and how I'm not going to get that. It's really bloody difficult not to make comparisons to a real life famous author of a beloved children's fantasy series, but that author is so awful, and has ruined so much for me on top of all the harm she's caused others. I won't actually mourn for her when she dies the way the people in this book mourn for Helen, and it brought up all kinds of emotions while reading this book. But that's for a completely different post.

Everything All at Once is at times a really beautiful, poignant story that really struck a chord with me, and at others ridiculous and predictable and completely pointless. I honestly feel like if I was to ever re-read it, I would only re-read it to a certain point, and not bother with the ending. But other people have really loved this book, so do read other reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read it.

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