review: the sky is everywhere by jandy nelson


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.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. 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.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

My Opinion

Just about everything in The Sky is Everywhere is exquisite. From the asymmetrical cover that's my favorite of the year so far (the little hole in the heart is genius, as is the different size of the font) to the charming prose, Nelson has created a novel that's heart-aching and gorgeous.

Band geek Lennie has always been the pony to her sister Bailey's racehorse--content to grace the sidelines in the face of Bailey's vivacity. But when Bailey dies of arrhythmia suddenly, Lennie is left picking up the pieces. Her "plant"--which her eccentric Grandmother "Gram" believes is connected to Lennie's well-being--is wilting. She's pushing away those closest to her and doesn't feel like anyone understands her grief. Lennie is a hopeless romantic, and even Wuthering Heights, Lennie's favorite and much-obsessed-over book can't comfort her. Nothing can.

Enter Toby: Bailey's boyfriend, lanky, skater boy, and several years older. As someone who lost everything with Bailey's death, he can understand what's going through Lennie's mind . In him, Lennie feels a connection, and grief propels them from physical attraction to a shaky and torturous romance. However, there's a new boy in town--Joe Fontaine, fresh from Paris--who's gorgeous in every aspect. He's musically talented, sweet, perpetually cheerful, and perfect for Lennie. Lennie is caught up between these two boys, while her grief for Bailey makes her feel ashamed and guilty about her relationship with Toby and the newfound joy she's feeling.

I don't think it's quite possible to understand the beauty of this book without knowing that Nelson is a poet and originally intended that The Sky is Everywhere be a verse book. Vestiges of poetic prose remain, permeating every sentence of this book. Although Nelsons' play on word combination is a little hard to get used to at first, a chapter in or two I was able to really appreciate and revel in the depth of feeling behind her writing. An added extra bonus is the way Nelson sprinkles Lennie's poems throughout the book. Lennie pens her feelings, deepest emotions, contemplations, on scraps of whatever she can find--coffee cups, lollipop wrappers, book pages--and scatters them around town.

Here's one of the lovely poems:
There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the others voice
across the room,
because even when the night was thick
and starless
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
not afraid
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they'd lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they'd reach their arms up to touch them
and did."

I think the setting and characters are also ingenious. Everyone is just so quirky, and I love it. I guess it's expected in a hippie-like Northern California town bordering redwood trees, where forty year old men such as Big, Lennie's Uncle, get married multiple times, attempt to raise insects from the dead, and smoke pot on a regular basis. Gram--with her always-green colored paintings and big heart is a memorable motherly figure. Lennie's house itself is a curiosity--and Lennie, literary girl that she is, names everything--from the Half-Mom portrait of the woman that deserted Lennie and Bailey at a young age that lies in the hallway, to the Inner Pumpkin Sanctum Lennie shared with Bailey.

The only thing I'm unsure about is the trajectory of the book--Lennie is fresh with grief in the beginning, but midway through, The Sky is Everywhere is almost solely focused on the romantic relationship she has with the two boys, a turn I wasn't quite expecting. Still, I suppose 300 pages of straight grieving is a little hard to stomach.

The twist with Joe at the end is absolutely perfect and gorgeous and possibly my favorite part of the book. The Sky is Everywhere is the type of book which I reread, hoping to overturn beautiful lines and scenes that I glossed through on the first read-through. A few quotes to give you an idea of the writing style:

"Grief is a house, where the chairs, have forgotten how to hold us, the mirrors how to reflect us, the walls how to contain us."

"The sky starts at our toes."

“As I walk through the redwood trees, my sneakers sopping up days of rain, I wonder why bereaved people even bother with mourning clothes when grief itself provides such an unmistakable wardrobe."

The Sky is Everywhere is one of those sweet, delightfully quirky novels in the style of I Capture the Castle* that will appeal to fans of If I Stay** who are looking for another touching, bittersweet novel to spend an afternoon with. It capably chronicles the confusion of life and being a teenager and first love.

I'm really looking forward to further works by Jandy Nelson. The Sky is Everywhere is a beautiful debut novel.

I give it a 9/10: definitely read it when you can :)

*Have you read I Capture the Castle? Please do if you haven't. It's one of my all time favorites.
** If I Stay is just plain great.