The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti
A thoroughly satisfying, modern coming-of-age tale, full of the discovery of self and wonder of the real world around us.
Harper Proulx is a social media star with a secret. She's popular, pretty, smart, and has the hottest boyfriend, Ezra, to take her places and document her every move. Her thousands of followers "Like" or comment on her posts as she curates her carefully staged pics to reveal only what is in sync with her brand. But her dedication to engaging with her audience and creating an image compensates for what she secretly wants: to know who she really is. She wants to know who her father is.
Harper's mother, Melissa, the daughter of a renowned economist and herself a respected professor of economy at the local university, conceived Harper via artificial insemination: had chosen the anonymous sperm donor from a catalog of desirable traits, such as the combination of vibrant auburn hair and vivid blue eyes. However, her mother could give her no information other than his medical history: not his name or address or likes or dislikes; their state did not allow for this disclosure, she said. But one day, a follower posted on one of Harper's pictures that Harper looked just like someone else she knew, Simone, another online influencer with an intimidatingly massive social media following. With only a tiny bit of research, Harper agreed. Looking at Simone was like looking at herself in a mirror: eerily familiar. Could she be an older half-sister? Later, there was a similar post. There were more out there like her!
What an amazing and satisfying coming of age and facing your fears story! The plot follows the main character, Harper Proulx, as she determinedly creates and maintains a "nature girl in symmetry with her environment" persona. It's an elaborate masquerade, though, as Harper is terrified of everything, thanks to her overwhelming exposure to "the sky is falling" content on social media. The stress of maintaining her brand and FOMO is compounded by her helicopter mom's relentless push for safety and academic perfection.
This never-ending cycle of "keeping up" doesn't allow Harper to share her real insecurities, her inner self, or her secret need to find out about her father or her discovery that she's got half-siblings with her faithful boyfriend, Ezra. This unknown conflicts with her perception of her perfect persona. I loved that her need to know trumps her need for safety and leads to adventure and a quirky "found" family. I loved all of the siblings' reawakening to the wonders of life, and the setting in Maui is irresistible, full of mystery and beauty.
Told from Harper's point of view, readers are privy to her thoughts and motivations. I was subtly absorbed into her preoccupation with her social media presence; honestly, it felt normal; she was so effortlessly good at it. In fact, I initially felt Ezra was being overly sensitive. It didn't feel so all-encompassing until it was missing. I had been sucked into Harper's life that completely. But the story changes focus to the real people around Harper, and so does she. It is mind-boggling how easily one can shut out what's right before your eyes and become distracted and absorbed by the allure and massive volume of a "created" online world.
I truly enjoyed the main characters: Harper, Ezra, Dario, Wyatt, Simone, and their new "found" family, including Beau and Greer. I loved that more siblings were occasionally revealed as the story went on. I think it must be a universal desire or need to discover such connections with the many anonymous others out there, hence, the popularity of genetic matching services. And frankly, I could relate to Melissa Proulx, her fears and desires for her child. I can't believe she wouldn't hop on a plane to Maui during all this, though.
Author Deb Caletti has crafted a thoroughly modern tale of discovery: discovering self, identity, and wonder. She captures perfectly that blasé feeling, that sense of inurement to what's going on in the world because of the constant bombardment of news, information overload, and the overwhelming number of calls to action. Her reigniting of wonder felt so pure and simple and joyful.
I recommend THE EPIC STORY OF EVERY LIVING THING to readers of young adult fiction, especially those who enjoy the phenomenon of online life and influencers, the idea of the hunt for DNA relatives, scuba diving, and the around-the-world travels of clipper ships during the mid-1800s.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.