Apr 6 2012
Dear Ms. Nicholas,
Perhaps I wasn’t the best choice to review your latest novel Everything You’ve Got. I’m married to a physician and have worked in and around the medical field for most of my adult life. Your heroine, twenty-seven (I think) year old Dr. Kat Dayton, struck me as unbelievably immature and the problems she faces in her medical practice seem to be in large part of her own making. For most of the book, she annoyed the hell out of me and I couldn’t see why your hero, the literally heroic Luke Hamilton, put up with her.
Kat and Luke have both grown up in the small town of Justice, Nebraska. Everything You’ve Got is the second book in the series Anything and Everything. I didn’t read the first book, Anything You Want, in which Luke and Kat are introduced, but that wasn’t a problem for me. Their back-story is clearly explained in Everything You’ve Got. Kat has been hung up on Luke for years but he spent most of that time stuck on the heroine of Anything You Want, Sabrina. Sabrina is now happily married to Luke’s best friend Marc and Luke has realized the woman he really loves is Kat. The two share a highly charged kiss involving handcuffs the night of Luke’s birthday party and immediately become a couple. As Luke says to Marc after he walks in on the two of them making out madly,
“And we’re both about to have a love life.”
“You’re getting a girlfriend?” Marc asked with a smirk.
“Yep. Terrific gal. You’ll love her,” Luke said.
“And Kat’s getting a boyfriend?”
“Guy who’s crazy about her.” Marc chuckled and Kat rolled her eyes as she took Luke’s hand. “Let’s go. Dining room.” Luke sighed and followed her into what could only be his surprise birthday party.
Kat’s never had a really serious relationship with any man although she’s had many a fling. Not only has she been crushing on Luke for years, Kat has serious intimacy issues. For years, Kat has kept the world at bay with her kick-ass attitude and her physical presentation.
She knew that most people saw her as a tough, confident, no-bullshit kind of woman. And that was absolutely the image she worked to project. Most of the time it was easy and most of the time it made her feel that way. But there were days like this, when even the boots, the makeup, the piercings and body paint didn’t make her feel tough.
It had always fascinated her how outward appearance colored the way people perceived things. She’d chosen her battle armor back in junior high. She changed the color of her hair and the body jewelry and paint she used, but her general look was the same— don’t mess with me.
It had worked like a dream in junior high and high school to keep the mean girls away and the cocky boys at arm’s length. A guy had to really want to get close to make a move. She admired those that tried.
The look had followed her to college and even med school. She was very comfortable with it by then and liked seeing how people responded to her. Some avoided her, feeling intimidated, some labeled her a rebel, some a bad-ass slut.
Some found her intriguing, some figured she was just trying to be odd, still others assumed she was disturbed and felt sorry for her….
She was more than a little fascinated by the whole thing. She’d grown up in small-town Nebraska, so she knew she was an anomaly. After all, it was completely on purpose.
No one knew that behind closed doors she preferred baggy sweats, no makeup and that nothing was pierced or painted anywhere others couldn’t see it.
It was armor, a costume, a Spiderman suit for the Peter Parker that lurked inside her—awkward, unsure, and breakable.
Kat thinks maybe she could let Luke in, but then, something bad happens. As she’s admiring her new boyfriend’s butt at his surprise party, her phone rings. A patient Kat saw in clinic earlier in the day—he came in complaining of arm weakness and a headache after working in the yard—whom she then sent home has just had a massive stroke and is unconscious. Kat realizes she misdiagnosed him—his symptoms were those of someone who had a mild stroke. Kat begins to freak out. Had she realized that Tom, the patient, had a stroke, she would have sent him to the hospital for testing and treatment which then, possibly, might have prevented the huge stroke he subsequently had. Kat doesn’t tell Luke about the issue that night nor does she tell him about the discussion she has with the senior partner in her medical practice who, the next day, essentially forces her to take a leave of absence, and begins the process of forcing her to quit practicing in Justice.
In the meantime, Luke, who always has a plan, decides what he and Kat need to do to take their relationship to the “we’re getting married and having six babies” stage is to kidnap her and take her on a trip in an RV to Nashville—it’s a favor, in part, for Sabrina, a musician, who will be performing in Nashville and needs the RV there, but is pregnant and wants to fly rather than drive. So, Luke handcuffs Kat and off the two go—Kat with her secret career problems and intimacy issues, Luke with the conviction she’s perfect for him and everything’s going to be great.
So many things are wrong with this set up—it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with Kat and the way she presents herself. She’s supposedly brilliant and wants nothing more than to treat the small town patients she sees at the clinic. And yet she never thinks that her appearance might make some uncomfortable with her as their physician. She wears black leather skimpy clothes, pierces her face, covers her body with wild body paint and still wants to be seen as a trust-worthy family practitioner in a small town in Nebraska—the 11th most conservative state in the country. Where I live, in a liberal part of North Carolina, most of the hospitals and medical practices don’t allow their medical employees to have visible tattoos or any visible body piercings other than ears. One can argue this is dumb, archaic, and based on an irrational premise—people who are tattooed and pierced aren’t as trustworthy as those who aren’t—but the bias in patients and medical administrators is real and it seemed ridiculous to me that Kat didn’t appear to give it any thought.
Then there’s the misdiagnosis. Kat is a young practitioner—she’s been licensed for less than a year. And it’s true the patient presented with symptoms consistent with a possible minor stroke. But, the misdiagnosis Kat makes is a common one, and it seems unlikely, had she correctly diagnosed the patient earlier in the day, that diagnosis would have prevented him from having a massive stroke less than twelve hours after she saw him in the clinic. Furthermore, if every time a physician made a misdiagnosis or didn’t catch a problem, she were immediately put on leave, we’d have very few working doctors in this country. It made no sense Kat was not allowed to continue to practice and even less sense that she, who is known for being both a medical whiz and a strong woman, would have allowed herself to be professionally treated in this way. This is a woman who has been to four years of college, four years of medical school and, probably, three years of residency. She’s spent years and—although it’s never mentioned—money to become a doctor. One bad call and she’s on the run, terrified she’ll never be able to hold her head up in Justice again, worried she’ll be ruined in a malpractice suit (unlikely given the circumstances), and, in general, overwhelmingly awash in anxious self-pity.
Luke, who knows none of this, kidnaps her—her office tells him it’s fine because she’s due for some vacation—and Kat goes with him, running away (for most of the book) from the nasty senior partner threatening her professional life. Kat, while on the road with Luke, when she’s not freaking about her awful horrible no-good mistake, is freaking out about having Luke see her without her makeup and body paint. She hasn’t let anyone—anyone!—see her without makeup or body paint since she was in ninth grade. She doesn’t normally take off her clothes when she has sex. And now, she’s stuck in an RV for days with a man who says he wants to marry her and she’s terrified to show him the real her. So, she spends her time alternately trying to get in his pants or panicking her life is going to fall to ruins. One page she thinks she loves him and he can be trusted; the next she’s sure he’ll leave her when he finds out the people of Justice will all think she’s fatally flawed. She’s so all over the map emotionally, I found it hard to either like her or make sense of her feelings.
Luke is also a cipher. He was apparently in love with Sabrina, or thought he was in love with Sabrina, for years. After she hooked up with Marc, Luke realized he just wanted to take care of Sabrina because he’s the kind of guy who wants to take care of everyone and everything. I don’t know why he loves Kat initially—he has a hero complex and she, on the surface, comes across as someone who doesn’t want anyone to be her savior. Then, as the two travel and she opens up to him, he sees she is a far more complex person than he thought and he begins to feel hurt she isn’t offering him much more than just her body. Luke also, unlike Kat, fits in beautifully in Justice. He runs a restaurant there he loves, he’s involved with the community, someday he’d like to be mayor. His dream is to marry Kat, have tons of kids, grow old in Justice, and be the most loved guy in town. He can’t seem to see Kat might not be the right person for that specific future and Kat, who is sure she is not, in the wake of her medical practice problems, that person, punishes them both for this disconnect. It’s an annoying version of the “I love you but I can’t be with you because I’m wrong for you” thesis and, by the middle of the novel, I wanted them to both start seeing other people—in Kat’s case, I hoped it would be a good shrink.
Finally, in the middle of the book, Kat comes clean to Luke in more ways than one. She allows him see her “naked,” tells him about her professional problems, and lets him go down on her. (She’s only ever let anyone do this to her once before—it makes her feel too vulnerable.) And, at this point, I had hopes the two might begin to resolve their issues constructively. My hopes were dashed. I disliked the way this story resolved itself. Kat never really stands up for herself in Justice and Luke, in order to have Kat, not only puts up with way too much crap from her, but gives up almost everything he cares about. The ending is written as though it is a happy, even blissful, one but I didn’t by it. I wanted to say, especially to Luke, (stealing the words of the great country music songstress Kathy Mattea), “Darlin’, you’re not dreamin’ big enough if that’s what you call love.”
The book is dedicated to “to anyone who’s ever been bullied or made to feel like you’re less than you are.” (Is there anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their life, been made to feel less than they think they are? And is that necessarily a bad thing? There’s a reason the ancients were obsessed with hubris and that the ability to succeed is closely tied with the ability to fail.) It’s clear the message of the book is we should all accept everyone on his or her own terms, not judge others by their appearance, or try and force people to fit into limiting social expectations. And yet, in her own way, Kat has a very difficult time not doing just those things. She’s judgmental, struggles to compromise, and needs to control how others see her. She sees the people of Justice as less than they turn out to be and she, one could argue, bullies Luke into a relationship based far more on her needs than his. I have a hard time with pat morality inherently—I had an even harder time with it in this book given the actions of the heroine.
I did like the writing in the book. The sex scenes are pretty hot and parts of the novel are funny. Anyone who has ever waited in a doctor’s office has to smile at this passage:
An hour and forty minutes later, Luke was sitting in the waiting room of the Alliance Medical Partners clinic flipping through a Cosmo magazine from 2009. Still, he couldn’t argue with the seven ways to seduce a man outdoors and the position-by-position guide to “The Best Sex of Your Life” seemed timeless.
But, overall, Everything You’ve Got did not work for me. I give it a C-.