Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication date: May 15, 2014
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.

Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

Nina LaCour has written a story that is dreamy and whimsical in all the right ways. Everything Leads to You is filled with charming, colorful characters – from Emi who has a passion for set design and makes you fall in love with it too; to Ava Garden Wilder who is a little bit enigmatic but becomes more familiar to us as Emi also learns more about her. There's Charlotte – Emi's awesome best friend who is supportive but tells it like it is – and Toby, Emi's lovely brother, the type who can woo a restaurant into supplying him with his own weekly pitcher of Ethiopian iced tea. Even the minor characters come alive, like Frank and Edie (who wants the plain cookies, goshdarnit) and Ava's best friend Jamal, with his own backstory and hopes and dreams.

At one point, Emi says something about how set designers want to create places that seem to go on even after the filming has ended... like the characters living in these spaces could just continue on with their lives once the movie is over. I feel similarly toward Nina LaCour's characters – they all seem so real that part of me believes they will carry on shopping at flea markets and drinking Ethiopian iced tea and working at Home Depot, even after I close the book. It's hard not to feel invested in their lives.

Emi's experiences in production design are so illuminating. (They also make me wish this book had existed when I was in high school because I swear it would have changed my career trajectory.) While reading, I had vivid pictures in my head of what everything looked like, which I know is sort of impossible because it's a book that came from somebody else's mind. But I could see the green couch and the music stand and the coziness of Toby's apartment. I could see the botanical prints, the portraits, how everything fit. All of that rich imagery coming right off the pages.

I can't take any chances with this sofa. It's everything I hoped it would be, only better: vivid green and soft, with these golden embroidered leaves, so delicate I didn't notice them when I first saw it from across the room. In the first music-room scene, when the daughter is practicing, it will seem pretty but plain. Later, though, once she's lying on it under the boy's weight, and there are close-ups of their hands or feet or faces, people will see the thread and the leaves. I can picture the girl's hair spilling over the side, blending with the gold, like she's tangled up in a forest. There's something fairy-tale-like about it, which is perfect, because fairy tales are all about innocence and ill will and the inevitability of terrible things. They're all about the moment when the girl is no longer who she once was, and with this in mind, I surrender all doubts and shreds of dignity and call Morgan.

Love is a big part of this story – as Emi deals with her on-off relationship with ex-girlfriend Morgan; as she develops feelings for someone new; as she negotiates the world of honesty and openness and bad timing. But friendship is important in this story, too. And Charlotte and Jamal are the type of people you want to have and keep in your life. They go to bat for their friends. They are supportive. They are true. And maybe they make Emi and Ava seem better, somehow – because you'd have to be a half-decent human being to be deserving of a friendship like that.

One of my favorite scenes occurs in Chapter 18, when Emi discovers how Ava lives. We learn what is important to Ava, what comes before having a mattress to sleep on or dishes to eat off of. Emi calls it "the opposite of the collapse of the fantasy." She begins to see Ava for who she is, stripped from the mystery of her family and the inevitability of fame. It's one of those wonderfully universal moments, when we see a person in a state of normalcy – maybe they're making toast, or writing their name on a piece of paper, or fishing their car keys out of their pocket – and yet they somehow seem larger than life in this utterly ordinary point in time. (Why is that, anyway? It's like our eyes are wonderstruck. Tinted with admiration. Colored by love.)

Chapter 21 was possibly my favorite to read – it's packed with so many emotions. Through Ava, we experience pain and abandonment and letdown. We learn that although we may be connected to other people, we can still be untethered sometimes. We learn that family is a blessing and a privilege and not a given, not something to be taken for granted. Those of us with great supportive families are lucky.

The part where Ava spends a few minutes wandering through Juniper's apartment is also a treat to read. It's a study in the things that make a place feel lived-in. A cup of tea in the sink. A crooked painting. An open book on a coffee table. The imagery is so warm and welcoming, but at the same time it's not. There's no dialogue – only motions. It's that feeling you get after you've had a long cry and all that's left is a sense of quiet. Emptiness, maybe. Some degree of clarity but mostly this feeling of blankness, like you're operating on auto-pilot. Maybe that's what gives this scene its significance, this idea that these are the small, subtle, instinctive things that make a place feel worn.

Everything Leads to You explores a lot of themes. Love and friendship and family – and all the different dynamics involved. What is good for us. Who is good for us. What passion looks like. Where we come from, and how we can come into our own. In some ways it's a very light-hearted read in which most conflicts are smoothly and neatly resolved – but it's still kind of realistic too, because there are relationships that remain broken. Because not everything can be fixed. And that's okay. It's life. Imperfect and disappointing sometimes, yes, but also sloppy generous with good things too, moments that Hollywood can only ever try to recreate.


  1. I really enjoyed this book as well. I read it on set, which was a very neat parallel. :)

  2. How fun! Glad to know you enjoyed it, especially with the inside scoop on the industry. x