Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Title: The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: March 9th, 2010
Pages: 277 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life--and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon: one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.


Since her older sister Bailey died at nineteen due to a problem with her heart, Lennie Walker has been at a complete loss. She's always had Bailey there with her, acting as the companion pony to her sister's racehorse. Still drowning in her grief, she is forced to stand on her own and live day-by-day when all she wants is her sister back. This is all happening at the same time as her sexual awakening and the trouble she has with two boys: new student and fellow musical talent Joe Fontaine and Toby Shaw, Bailey's boyfriend and the boy she seeks comfort in.

I have not seen characterization this strong and this wonderful for a while. For once, I felt like I could tell someone what the heroine's personality was if asked! Not only was Lennie a good heroine, she was a realistic one--she's not without her flaws, such as her insecurity and her selfishness in the wake of Bailey's death. Even Bailey, dead for the entirety of the story, had such great characterization and presence that she was alive in a way. This was the same for many of the characters, including Gram, Joe, and Uncle Big. The notes left in books, on branches, and on bathroom walls offer even more insight into the mind of this grief-addled girl.

Of all the times for Lennie to wake up and realize that boys are there and she likes them, it was horrible that it happened right after her sister's death. The overwhelming grief and new sexual desires tangle up inside of her, leading to more than a few problems (can we say Toby?). My word isn't because I have only lost two relatives (one died when I was too young to remember and the other... well, I had a hard time finding it in me to miss and mourn her because of what she did to my family), but The Sky is Everywhere is a stunning portrait of grief. No, not just of grief. Of the the internal struggle that happens when you're trying to move on with your life after someone's death and yet refuse to let them go because you're afraid they'll think badly of you from wherever they are. Everyone hurts, not just Lennie.

I admit, there isn't much of a solid plot to this book. That's why it took me a week to read it when I probably could have done it in three days: I didn't feel like there was anything to keep me reading. Sometime around page 180, something kicked in. Maybe it was that Lennie was forced to stand on her own after all the people she had been leaning on refused to hold her up anymore. Maybe it was that the hints of something more to everything finally got through my thick skull to my brain. Whatever it was, I sat in my chair for two hours and finished reading The Sky is Everywhere. You want plot? Go elsewhere. You want a character-driven novel? Here's your stop.

Despite its wonders, The Sky is Everywhere is not without flaw. My mortal nemesis good friend, the "love rival is a bitch" trope, made an appearance with the help of Rachel, the girl who holds first chair clarinet in Lennie's class. Did Rachel have any use in the story other than to make Lennie feel insecure and make her angst about whether or not Joe's involved with Rachel? Parts of this story, especially the beginning, were very telltelltell instead of showshowshow and constant telling is irritating, to say the least. There were also a few... interesting and unneeded references in there. We don't need to know that Gram doesn't drive, and that moment of "now I know why that king abdicated his throne for love, love is awesome" was a little overdramatic. Not so much bad as it was strange and out-of-nowhere.

Unless the reader lacks a heart, this book will most likely make someone cry at least once. Stories like this are not my typical fare (I prefer romance to remain a subplot, if it has to be there at all, and action), but The Sky is Everywhere was worth the time spent reading it. The novel is never about just grief or just love: it's always about both of them and how they affect everyone in the Walker family, not just Lennie. For once, there is good reason for all the praise this novel has garnered.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Steampunk by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer