Leno, Katrina. Everything All At Once. New York, Harper Teen, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers, 2017.
I’ve accepted the fact that my attachment to fictional worlds and fictional characters is extreme. I’ll finish a compelling YA series and refuse to read anything for weeks, missing the characters as though they are dear friends who moved far away. I’ll see a fantastic movie and talk about it for days, whereas everyone else has already grown bored with discussing it. I’ll read fan theories and browse fan art while most people my age are firmly planted in reality.
I felt somewhat understood when I began reading Katrina Leno’s novel Everything All At Once. As the protagonist’s deceased aunt was a celebrated children’s author—her fame on level with that of JK Rowling—it was interesting to see how she was mourned by not only her family but by the entire world.
Lottie Reaves is reeling following the death of her Aunt Helen, a famous author whose Alvin Hatter series is the best-selling children’s book series of all time. Her grief is amplified by her own anxiety. Lottie has always been terrified of death, and watching her aunt succumb quickly to breast cancer has left her frightened and on-edge. Most nights, Lottie lays awake while her mind cycles through all the various ways she and her remaining family could die.
At the reading of her Aunt Helen’s will, Lottie is bequeathed her aunt’s jewelry collection, some old journals, and a stack of twenty-four letters written in her aunt’s neat script. According to the lawyer’s instructions, she is to open only one letter at a time. The first letter instructs Lottie to throw a party in her aunt’s honor, with plenty of food and dancing. At the party, Lottie meets Sam, one of her aunt’s former students from her stint teaching at a local university. With the help of Sam, her brother Abe, and best friend Em, Lottie sets out to fulfill her aunt’s final wishes. Why did Aunt Helen leave Lottie such detailed letters? Why did she want her to have her old journals? Is Sam really a former student, or did he play a larger role in her late aunt’s life?
The characterization of Lottie and Helen Reaves make this a spectacular read. Lottie is vulnerable, and her anxiety about her future and her imminent demise will be relatable to many readers. Through her letters, Helen confesses her own insecurities and regrets. Her letters are so vivid that she became my favorite character despite never appearing in the novel. The book also provides intermittent excerpts from the Alvin Hatter series, which provided fantastic depth in a way that reminded me of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
This will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I wasn’t a fan of Sam’s revelation at the book’s end. Without giving too much away, it certainly lessened the contemporary feel of the novel and made Lottie and Helen a little less relatable.
Everything All At Once would be a great recommendation for a student struggling with anxiety or the loss of a loved one. There’s also a great deal of discussion in the book about the meaning versus meaningless of life. It would be interesting to read the book as a class, discuss the many themes, and then have students create their own life mottos and maxims.