One for All is Lillie Lainoff’s debut novel. It follows Tania de Batz, the daughter of a former musketeer, who has become quite the fencer in her own right despite her struggle with POTS. Her only worries are making sure her mom lets her continue to fence and finding a boy willing to marry her. That is until her father is found dead while on a business trip. Tania’s worst nightmares come true, not only will she never see her beloved father again but she is immediately sent off to an elite finishing school for girls in Paris. She despairs that she will have to give up everything left of her father and her own wishes only to arrive and find out that the school is a cover for a small group of female musketeers trying to uncover a plot against the king. Tania becomes fast friends with the three girls and starts to discover that her illness is not the life-ending curse that she had thought it was.
It is categorized as an OwnVoices book because Lainoff has the same condition as her main character, and so do I. For those of you that don’t know, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is “most often characterized by a drop in blood pressure, accompanied by an increase in heart rate, upon standing—to a heart rate increase of at least thirty beats per minute in adults and forty beats per minute in adolescents. The jump in heart rate is the body’s response to the blood pressure drop; the heart is trying to pump blood faster to get it through the body. Common symptoms of POTS include dizziness, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, and many others. Doctors say POTS symptoms are most similar to congestive heart failure symptoms. Today, most POTS patients are forced to see multiple doctors to finally receive a diagnosis (the average diagnosis time is five years and eleven months). More than half of people diagnosed with POTS will be told by doctors that their symptoms are “all in their head.” Over a quarter of patients will be forced to see over ten doctors before they finally know the truth. For more statistics, information, materials, and/or to donate to POTS and dysautonomia research, readers can visit:
- Dysautonomia International
- National Institutes of Health
- Hopkins Medicine (Johns Hopkins)
- Mayo Clinic” (One for All (p. 390). Kindle Edition.)
This is the first time I have ever seen a main character with POTS, let alone any character with POTS, and it meant so much. One quote from Lainoff’s information at the back of the book really resonated with me, “When I was at my most sick as a teenager, I lost myself in books, despite never seeing myself in their pages. I thought that meant stories like mine, about people like me, weren’t worthy of being told. That chronically ill, disabled girls couldn’t be main characters. That because I was sick, I’d never be the hero of my own story”(p. 389 Kindle Edition). Every book that is written about disabled and chronically ill characters living their lives and just being human helps to heal the emotional wounds that so many of us have suffered.
I’ve always known that while I enjoy watching historical dramas and romances, I am not someone that would be able to survive in that world, and Tania’s experiences really underscored that. Theoretically, I understood that I wouldn’t have my medicine, that buildings would be even less accessible than they are now, and people would be less educated about my illnesses. But something that was surprisingly scary was thinking about the sheer lack of knowledge that Tania has about her condition. I hadn’t even really considered that if I were living in almost any other time period, neither my doctors nor I would understand what was wrong. I have enough medical trauma from trying to get doctors to listen and diagnose me with conditions they’ve actually heard about let alone ones that neither of us knows even exists. Lainoff does a very good job communicating this uncertainty in Tania’s life, no one knows what causes her illness or what effects it might have later on.
I love the way that Tania’s father helped make the house more accessible for her, changing the office into a bedroom for her on the first floor, the railings and fences for her to lean on and balance with. I especially loved the ribbon elevator that Henri built, climbing stairs seems like such a small thing until it takes almost all your energy to go up a single flight. The fact that all these able-bodied people went to the work of helping Tania be more mobile and independent is amazing.
All of Tania’s insecurities about people leaving her or judging her are so real for so many people. I love how each of the Musketeers reassures her in their own way that they care about her and aren’t going anywhere. Aria says it directly but you can see the same sentiment in the special clothing that Thea makes for Tania and the way Portia pushes her out of her comfort zone and reminds her that she is still a person, not just a walking illness. Good friends are vital when you have a chronic illness and while I have been very lucky to not have friends leave because of my illness, it is a fear that is constantly in the back of my mind.
So much about this book is incredibly validating to someone with POTS while still being a very enjoyable story for readers completely unaware of the condition. Tania is a compelling character regardless of whether you recognize your specific experiences in hers.
Lainoff’s story is well crafted if a bit predictable at times. I appreciated the discussion the girls had about the morality of their mission, whether they should be saving the King if he’s doing nothing for the people and the consequences that would affect the everyday people if the King were to die. All the girls come from different situations and classes and those experiences inform the way they interact with the world. They each have their reasons for joining the musketeers but they put that aside in favor of their duty to each other and the people.
The plot was engaging and the climax was explosive, I could have just used a bit more falling action to wrap things up. Overall, I’d give One for All 4.5 stars.