Every Exquisite Thing is the new novel from Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook. It is a coming of age story that focuses on Nanette O’Hare, a polite, well-behaved teen who gets good grades and is the star scorer for her school’s football team. Nanette’s future looks set – school graduation and a scholarship to any college of her choice.
When her teacher gives her a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper, an out-of-print cult classic, it awakens her inner rebel. She begins to question the direction that her life is taking and whether it’s really in line with what she wants.
The Bubblegum Reaper leads her to love and new friendships, and a realisation of the cost of doing your own thing.
Every Exquisite Thing tackles the idea of conforming to the social norm vs. the cost of rebelling against it, and one aspect that I really enjoyed about the novel is that it doesn’t try to sugar-coat the idea that being different doesn’t come without its own challenges. Nanette soon discovers the freedom and peace of mind in doing what’s best for her, and yet becomes ostracised by her peers as they resent her for not playing along. This isn’t a new experience for Nanette, as she has, even prior to her quiet rebellion, refused to follow her ‘friends’ as they start drinking and experimenting sexually.
And Nanette is a sympathetic character. I admired her for doing her own thing (such as dropping football, which she hasn’t enjoyed playing for years), and observed her becoming thick-skinned enough to deal with the consequences, such as the name-calling and the isolation that being different enforces on her. For Nanette, rebellion doesn’t come in the form of the usual teenage angst, it’s simply about making her own choices about her life and her future, and doing what’s right for herself, rather than what everyone else thinks is best for her.
As a coming of age story, it’s inevitable that Nanette’s character grows and develops as the novel progresses. At the same time, we see how those around her – her peers and fellow students – seem stuck in a rut, doing what they’ve always done. Happy, maybe, yet oblivious. And you know that those same people will continue in the same way both at college and beyond.
Every Exquisite Thing also looks at the impact that literature can have on us, and how certain works can inspire and guide us. The Bubblgum Reaper has a profound effect on Nanette, yet doesn’t contain all of the answers (much like Every Exquisite Thing itself). And this is another lesson that Nanette learns – books, and other people – can only lead you so far; if you want to do your thing, eventually, you have to take a leap of faith and do so on your own. Mistakes will be made, and learnt from, and that’s part of the process of growing up.
Every Exquisite Thing is a quick read, and I finished it in two sittings. By turns humorous, thought-provoking and sad, this insightful novel is The Catcher in the Rye for the modern day, but with a more likeable protagonist.
Every Exquisite Thing will be published by Headline Publishing Group in the UK on 31 May. Many thanks to Frances Gough for providing a copy for review.