Eh, if by Everything All At Once we’re referring to the lack of substance until the last twenty pages, then yes I’d say that’s a pretty accurate title.
For the last few months I’ve heard a lot of hype surrounding Katrina Leno. Albeit, more toward Summer of Salt than anything else. However, I thought I’d start out with a novel on her backlist before jumping into her most recent work. If you didn’t know, Everything All At Once follows Lottie, the niece of a renowned author (aka the J.K. Rowling of our world), after the death of said aunt. Following her death, Helen leaves a plethora of letters containing dares, pieces of advice, and a couple of secrets to help Lottie grieve.
If it were for the premise alone I’d consider giving this a higher rating, because I do feel there was true potential in this story. However, my largest gripe with this story was how immature and undeveloped it ended up feeling. I feel awful writing something so crude, because obviously writing a novel takes serious time and effort. That being said, a lot of it felt two dimensional.
Beginning with the writing style; it was a lot of tell and no show. The most prevalent example of this was the anxiety rep. We’re constantly reminded that Lottie suffers from anxiety, it’s one of the reasons she’s the only one who gets handed these letters, but it was never shown. I could tell Leno sought out to write a book with great representation of anxiety, and for that I commend her, but she chose to do it in such a blatant way when I think subtlety would’ve proved more impactful. In other words, the repetitive and dry manner in which we were told of Lottie’s mental illness made it feel inauthentic.
Another example of the lack of depth in this story was in the characters and their relationships with one another. The characters never fully jumped off the page, so rather than find myself lost in the book, I started to see the author behind each word of dialogue. For instance, Lottie and her group of friends are all in high school, yet they often read as if from sixth grade. An example of this was when Lottie’s brother was given a magazine and his girlfriend wanted to see what was on it, “‘What! What! What! What!’ She said, a ‘what’ for every bounce.” Does that sound like an exchange between a high school girlfriend and boyfriend?
Additionally, the relationship within Lottie and her parents seemed unrealistic. At any given point in the novel, they didn’t appear to care where she’d been or question what she’d been up to. This especially dumfounded me considering it’s only been a matter of weeks, if not days, since the passing of her beloved aunt, and here Lottie is disappearing and reappearing at odd hours in the day and night. Not to mention there’s a point towards the end in which Lottie has a breakdown in the middle of the night, and after being caught by her mother expresses an idea that makes her seem “insane.” But rather than worry about her daughter’s safety or mental health, the mother expresses how tired she is and leaves her alone before going to bed. I don’t care how tiring your shift at work was, I doubt a good parent would leave a child in the middle of the night in the midst of mental break down after a considerable loss. At the very least, she could’ve woken up Lottie’s dad to deal with it, or make some sort of attempt to ensure Lottie wasn’t alone.
Quite frankly, I simply found myself suspending my disbelief too often. Beware, a mild spoiler ahead (pretty tame though), but one of Aunt Helen’s requests was for Lottie to teach her final class at the University she worked at before passing. I’m sorry but in what world would an administration let a teen run a college level class? People pay SERIOUS tuition money to be at university, and you’re telling me no one’s going to bat an eyelash at a highly unqualified teen teaching there? I doubt anyone would make an exception for J.K. Rowling’s niece.
Nor do I think a high school class would revolve a lesson plan around a student’s deceased famous aunt. Which is exactly what happens at Lottie’s high school. Her English teacher decides to dedicate a class to the meaning of life, which seems incredibly insensitive considering everything, and basically pushes Lottie to say Aunt Helen’s famous words, “’Keep going, be nice, make friends.’” And I’m sorry (again), but is it just me or are those really stupid words? Like how do you dedicate a whole class to that meager, oversimplified, and frankly dumb statement?
Overall, the novel had strong points but eventually lost its footing, and alongside it a sense of reality, rendering it to read underdeveloped. I realize this review is salty, and maybe that’s because I spent a lot of dragging hours on a book that didn’t feel worth it, but I truly mean no harm. This simply wasn’t the book for me. I’d say that if you were a fan of Lucy Keating’s Dreamology, then you’ll probably enjoy this too.