Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre YA / Contemporary
Publication Date: March 9 2010
Hardcover: 288 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
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.
How did I get this book: ARC from publisher
Why did I read this book: When we were contacted by the publisher offering a copy of the book and I read the blurb and saw the AMAZING cover, I immediately said yes: it does have Ana-Crack spelt all over it.
Lennie’s sister is dead. Without as much as a presage, Bailey simply collapses one day at school and just like that, puff, she is gone. Left behind are those who love her the most and who must deal with her sudden absence: her sister Lennie, her boyfriend Toby, her grandmother, the one who raised her.
The Sky is Everywhere is narrated by Lennie whose first person narrative takes the reader into a journey – an exploration of grief and of sadness (at least to begin with). As the story starts Lennie has recently lost her sister and is preparing to get back to school. She has effectively shut herself to the world and won’t talk to anybody about her sister. Bailey was her closest family member (their hippy mother abandoned them when they were children and they never knew their father) and she won’t talk to her grandmother or to her best friend ; the only way she communicates with the world around her about the immense sense of hurt, confusion and loss she feels is by writing pieces of poetry that are scattered around town and which open almost every chapter:
The morning of the day Bailey died,
she woke me up
by putting her finger in my ear.
I hated when she did this.
She then started trying on shirts, asking me:
Which do you like better, the green or the blue?
You didn’t even look up, Lennie.
Okay, the green. Really, I don’t care what shirt you wear…
Then I rolled over in bed and fell back asleep.
I found out later
she wore the blue
and those were the last words I ever spoke to her.
(Found written on a lollipop wrapper on the trail to the Rain River)
And then there is Toby, Bailey’s beloved boyfriend. Before her death, Lennie never got along with him but after her sister is gone something happens and Toby and Lennie grow closer together. What brings them together is a mixture of grief and being able to understand one another in their shared memory of Bailey. Their relationship evolves though, to something else and in this something else, there is also guilt and shame.
At the same time at school, Joe Fontaine, a new student, recently arrived from France, is a breath of fresh air, a welcome relief from the sadness, someone who is interested in her, and who shares her passion for music (he plays guitar, she plays clarinet).
It is in this between world of being at one times relentlessly sombre and at others recklessly happy that most of The Sky is Everywhere takes place. And it is such an extraordinary book!
It takes an honest look at the process of grieving and it says: here, not two people in the world grieve in the same manner. This is Lennie’s story and this is how it goes. And it is raw and painful at times, especially at those moments when Lennie is with Toby because of the guilty involved and because everybody knows that it is a mistake: Lennie, Toby, the reader. But the pull is there, even if it is senseless and illogical and difficult to understand and accept . But being with Toby reminds her and him of Bailey. It makes them not forget. And this is what matters to them – that they have such an intense love for Bailey that they would do anything to not let go.
At the same time, being with Joe is the direct opposite. He is able to pull her off her musical shelf, he wants to know about her and her alone. There is nothing about Bailey when she is with Joe and that and the joy she feels when with him, makes her forget, and that forgetfulness when hits homes, is also cause for guilt and grief.
And the absolutely wonderful thing about the book is that the writing conveys a sense of intimacy in which all of those feelings are mirrored in the reader. Many times, I found myself laughing and falling in love with Joe Fontaine, only to catch myself in middle of the act along with Lennie, to remember: Bailey died. And it was hard.
Hardest of all to Lennie because more than a book about death and grief, this a book about love and life and really, a coming of age story. She gets to be her own woman, to get under the shadow of her older sister, to do her own things, to make several (many, and horrible) and fix them. Because the one thing that happens as soon as Bailey dies, is how alive, awakened Lennie feels (and yes, horny ) and it makes it all the more powerful and raw because she is aware that she is awakening when her sister is sleeping forever. The book might sound like a downer or dark but it is not really. In fact, the story is replete with humorous passages and adorable sequences especially between (the awesome) Joe Fontaine (who kept being a fool around Lennie just so she could say to him “quel dork” ) and beautiful turn of phrases.
Jandy Nelson’s Debut is incredible, I loved it and I can’t recommend it enough.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“Thank you,” I say, for the hundredth time that day. Sarah and Joe are both looking at me too, Sarah with concern and Joe with a grin the size of the continental United States. Does he look at everyone like this, I wonder. Is he a wingnut? Well, whatever he is, or has, it’s catching. Before I know it, I’ve matched his continental U.S. and raised him Puerto Rico and Hawaii. I must look like The Merry Mourner. Sheesh. And that’s not all, because now I’m thinking what it might be like to kiss him, to really kiss him—uh-oh. This is a problem, an entirely new un-Lennie-like problem that began (WTF-edly?!) at the funeral: I was drowning in darkness and suddenly all these boys in the room were glowing. Guy friends of Bailey’s from work or college, most of whom I didn’t know, kept coming up to me saying how sorry they were, and I don’t know if it’s because they thought I looked like Bailey, or because they felt bad for me, but later on, I’d catch some of them staring at me in this charged, urgent way, and I’d find myself staring back at them, like I was someone else, thinking things I hardly ever had before, things I’m mortified to have been thinking in a church, let alone at my sister’s funeral.
This boy beaming before me, however, seems to glow in a class all his own. He must be from a very friendly part of the Milky Way, I’m thinking as I try to tone down this nutso smile on my face, but instead almost blurt out to Sarah, “He looks like Heathcliff,” because I just realized he does, well, except for the happy smiling part—but then all of a sudden the breath is kicked out of me and I’m shoved onto the cold hard concrete floor of my life now, because I remember I can’t run home after school and tell Bails about a new boy in band.
My sister dies over and over again, all day long.
Additional Thoughts: I think book trailers are getting better and better. The one for this book is simple and yet, effective. And I love the music because the music is such a big part of the book.
Verdict: A highly emotional, deeply beautiful look at what it feels like to lose someone you love whilst at the same time learning to love someone new. Sad and funny, always charming and with great sympathetic characters, The Sky is Everywhere is a wonderful debut.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: It’s Steampunk week ahead!