Everything Leads To You is a YA contemporary by Nina LaCour. I actually recently discovered Nina LaCour when I read her novel We Are Okay (review here, by the way) and fell madly, deeply, and instantly in love with her writing. As soon as I finished reading that book, I said to myself, well, okay, now I have to read every other thing she has ever written.
So I started with Everything Leads to You. Everything Leads to You centers on Emi, a young woman who has just graduated high school and is living in Los Angeles and pursuing a career as a production designer, where she began as an intern and has managed to catch several eyes in the industry with her attention to detail and passion for her work. At the beginning of the book, her older brother Toby leaves for work overseas and decides to let Emi and her best friend, Charlotte, stay in his apartment while he’s gone, on one condition: something amazing has to happen there while he is gone.
Emi has no idea how she will make “something amazing” happen, but she’s in luck as a trip to an estate sale of a recently deceased John Wayne-esque movie star to hunt for props for the set of a movie sets into motion an irreversible series of events. Charlotte purchases an old Patsy Cline record at the estate sale, and when the girls go to listen to it that night, they find a letter from the late Western star tucked inside, addressed to his daughter—whom no one knew he had. When Emi and Charlotte decide to try to hunt down his daughter, they meet his granddaughter, Ava, who has her own interesting story—and who Emi quickly finds herself falling in love with.
So, I went into this book with pretty high expectations since I loved We Are Okay so, so much, and luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. The first thing that I really loved about this book—and perhaps the thing I loved the most—were the characters. Just like in We Are Okay, Everything Leads To You boasts a cast of real, genuine, honest, and relatable characters. I absolutely love that LaCour writes such genuine characters, characters who come alive on the page. They aren’t two-dimensional by any means, but instead seem so real, like complex individuals who you would actually know in real life. Emi is so believable, so passionate about her work, and so relatable in her periodic self-doubt and only little crises, and Ava was so well written and compelling that I had no trouble seeing how Emi fell in love with her, as I found myself falling a little in love with her, too.
I also really appreciate that while LaCour writes very diverse characters, they are as well thought-out and fleshed out characters as anyone else. It’s really refreshing to see diverse characters getting treated with the respect they deserve and avoiding any sort of stereotypes or even caricatures that LGBTQ characters can sometimes fall victim to (or being relegated as side characters and not getting their own storylines explored in depth). That was one of the things I loved about We Are Okay, and it’s one of the things I love about this book as well: LaCour treats relationships between women and women the same as relationships between women and men, rather than as if they are some “shocking” or “novelty” aspect of life. She does, however, still manage to acknowledge some of the struggles of the characters in a delicate and respectful manner, like when Emi talks about how coming out isn’t a one-time event.
“I just didn’t know you liked girls. Well, I thought you might, but I wasn’t sure.”
“You weren’t?” I ask, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. People talk about coming out like it’s this big one-time event. But really, most people have to come out over and over to basically every new person they meet. I’m only eighteen and it already exhausts me.
She also illustrates the strife between Ava and Tracey (her adoptive mother) in a way that seems really true to life and is seriously heartbreaking.
Even the supporting characters or characters with smaller parts in the book were so multi-dimensional and interesting. I really loved Jamal, who should probably get an award for being the best/most supportive friend ever, and Emi’s eccentric but lovable parents, who are so warm and welcoming while also being so awkward. I mean, if that’s not real, what is, right?
The attention to detail in this book is another one of my absolute favorite things, and really, really brought the book to life for me. As I mentioned, Emi is working as a production designer, helping to design and decorate sets for a film, and then signing on as the singular production designer for a film called Yes & Yes where she is scouting locations, designing sets, and choosing and purchasing props. Not only was this whole process really interesting to read about, but it brought about a whole new level of attention to detail, because in addition to the author’s usual attention to detail, we also had Emi’s attention to detail. As a production designer, Emi tends to notice the set dressings of our real lives, too. She talks a lot about how the things we surround ourselves with can tell others so much about us, and LaCour successfully carries this through the book and uses it to help us get to know the characters, and I just loved that. For example, when we are getting to know more about Ava’s adoptive mother, Emi takes notice that she really enjoys paint-by-numbers art, and that she has a tendency to hang onto absolutely everything, from personal mementos to photos to drawers and drawers of junk mail. Or when Ava moves into her own apartment, Emi places a lot of stock in the few things of her own that Ava has in the apartment: two heavy red skillets, three cookbooks, a yellow bowl full of peaches, an old photograph of her biological mom.
I loved that LaCour took this aspect and passion of the main character and really drove it home like that, lacing it into so many details of the story. It really helps the reader get to know not just the people Emi interacts with, but also Emi herself as we get to see how she looks at things and what matters to her.
As with We Are Okay, the writing itself in this book is downright beautiful. Both times that I’ve read novels by LaCour, I’ve found myself thinking she could write an essay on eating Corn Flakes and I’d still read it because her writing is just so gorgeous and well-done, I have no doubt she’d manage to make even crunching on sensible cereal somehow captivating.
Along with the writing, the overall message and ideas of the book are really interesting and really stuck with me, and are important concepts that we should all really keep in mind: not missing out on the moment, and going after what we believe in and are passionate about.
“What’s the use in waiting until the right moment if that moment never comes?” I say. “What if the moment escapes you in the split second when your focus was elsewhere?”
There were really not many things I disliked about this book, but there were a few things here and there that I found I wasn’t a hundred percent thrilled with, moments where I felt the story lost its footing a little bit and may have slipped. For example, when Ava—who ran away from her adoptive mother’s house and has been living in a homeless shelter—comes into the money she inherited from her famous grandfather, the very first thing she does is go right out and rent a lavish rooftop penthouse for her and her alone. It’s a nice concept to think about, I guess—the sort of rags to riches fairytale type story that the media eats up on a regular basis—but it seemed unrealistic, and to me, it didn’t fit with the character at all. Up until that point in the book, Ava is very humble and seems down to earth for the most part, despite everything she’s been through. One detail I took note of was that she was always wearing the same pair of beat up boots, which made Emi think of Ava’s grandfather’s claim to fame in Westerns.
So to me, it didn’t seem in character for this girl who has one pair of boots and has really gone without, even going without having a home, to immediately jump on getting the most expensive, most unreasonable apartment she possibly can. Ava seemed more like the type of person who would be grateful just to have a place to live, and therefore would stick with something much simpler (after all, she could have easily gotten something more understated that was still in a nice neighborhood) and imbue her own personality into it with the things she buys and loves.
There were also a few small moments where I found myself questioning whether characters’ motivations were believable, such as when Ava tells Emi that the reason she kept the pursuing the mysteries of her past was because of Emi—that she wanted to keep the mystery alive because she believed it was what bonded them together. On one hand, I saw where she was coming from, but I wasn’t sure I entirely bought it. After all, I think it’s totally natural for someone to want to dig into their own mysterious past and find out where they came from. In fact, it’s one of the most interesting parts of the book, so I didn’t think that explanation of motives was entirely necessary or easy to believe.
Other than these few tiny, tiny gripes, there’s really nothing else in particular that I disliked about the book. I loved this novel, so I would be remiss to go around creating an extensive list of negatives when in fact most of what I have to say is quite positive. I just thought it would be fair to at least mention them, as I try to be as honest and all-encompassing as I can be in my reviews.
So, if you can’t already tell from all my raving (and how many times I used the word “beautiful” in this review—I’d recommend making it into a drinking game, but I value your life), I absolutely loved this novel, and I definitely recommend it. Star-wise, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars, falling short of 5 only for the small complaints I mentioned previously.
But all in all, it really is a gorgeous novel, it features complex and genuine diverse characters, and has a really compelling and relatable overall message. You should definitely read it, and I have no doubt I’ll be reading more and more from Nina LaCour, as I’m becoming a very big fan of her work!
Has anyone else read Everything Leads to You? What did you think? Let me know in the comments. You know I’d love to talk. <3