Nanette O’Hare has spent most of her life doing exactly what people expect of her. She gets good grades. She is the star of her high school soccer team and essentially guaranteed an athletic scholarship to the college of her choice. She works hard. She doesn’t cause any trouble.
When a favorite teacher gives Nanette a worn copy of a book called The Bubblegum Reaper she isn’t sure what to expect. Within the pages of the out-of-print cult classic, Nanette finds a character who seems to understand all of the frustration and fatigue that she has been trying to articulate for years.
An unlikely friendship with the book’s reclusive author and a turbulent relationship with a young poet and fellow fan leads Nanette to discover her inner rebel. As Nanette tries to become a truer version of herself, she realizes that rebellion rarely comes without a cost in Every Exquisite Thing (2016) by Matthew Quick.
Quick peppers the novel with references to canonical literary works of poetry and novels (all by men, almost exclusively white–this is either a glaring oversight or an intentional reference to the insular world these characters inhabit . . . or possibly both). Every Exquisite Thing is very self-aware and intentionally referential to the book within a book (The Bubblegum Reaper) which is summarized, quoted and otherwise integral to the plot of this novel.
Nanette’s character arc is intrinsically linked to her discovery of The Bubblegum Reaper. As she bonds with the author and another fan (the young poet) she learns how literature can change a person. She also learns that idols inevitably fall short of their pedestals in the real world and that fiction–however true it may seem–doesn’t always translate well into everyday life.
Parts of Every Exquisite Thing are poignant and moving–as is to be expected from a talent like Matthew Quick. Other aspects of the story, particularly in the second half, are impenetrable and mystifying. Sometimes, particularly with the one-sided representation of the majority of female characters (besides Nanette) as routinely over-sexualized and vapid. This is a high-tension, introspective novel that won’t work for everyone. Ideal for readers who don’t necessarily need to like a book to enjoy it and who want a text they can engage with on multiple levels.
Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, The Catcher in the Rye by Lee Salinger