Title: The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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.
I’ve mentioned before how much I loved Jandy Nelson’s second novel, I’ll Give You the Sun. That was why I decided to pick up a contemporary YA, something I rarely do (the last one I read was I’ll Give You the Sun… roughly 6 months ago). You can definitely see some that she carried on some themes from here like the obsession with superstitions, grief and family, but it does manage to stand on its own.
I did have one fear that turned to be true: the love story at times overshadows the other, far more poignant themes.
I’ll tackle this first. The love interests were kind of boring in comparison to the rest of the cast. They just didn’t have much of a personality. Joe smiles and plays music like a God. Toby is sad and loved Bailey very much. Lennie falls in love way too fast. Though there are some lovely descriptions, others kind of fall flat. As in I’ll Give You the Sun, the love here feels fated and perfect, a trope that just doesn’t work for me in either of her novels.
Nelson’s prose is a bit inconsistent in this book, which is understandable given that it was her debut. Her style is very distinctive, but there are some places where it works so much better than others. As I said, I found her continuous descriptions of being in love trite at times especially because there were so many. Lennie would say over and over again how in love she was before using a shiny metaphor, so after a while I got bored. That said, there are some place where Nelson’s writing dazzles as much as in her second novel. Lennie’s poems were poignant and very much in her voice. There was more than one moment where I had to stop to think about how beautiful or apt was a line. And she can be quite funny too! Honestly, I think I’ll read everything Nelson writes just for the writing style alone. I’ll leave the title quote here.
That’s a misconception, Lennie. The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet.
I also loved the family dynamics in this. I complain about how paternal figures are often ignored in YA, and this novel does just the opposite. It would’ve been disastrous if a novel with this premise didn’t address how it impacted the adults too. Thankfully, the adults get to be characters too. I loved that Lennie didn’t have a traditional family (she lives with her grandmother and uncle) and saw a lot of my own (slightly superstitious) family in them.
Last of all, this novel’s portrayal of grief felt very raw and very real. Depictions of the deaths of teenagers hit me hard, partly because I lost one of my best friends at age 16. To this day, few things make me more disappointed in fiction than seeing characters move on too quickly; it was completely the opposite from me, and I’m sure that for a lot of other people. So I knew I was going into this book and expecting it to be a tough read emotionally, but I don’t think I would have read this book had I known Bailey died of an arrhythmia, the exact same way my friend died. Only a couple pages into this book, I was sobbing.
And Nelson gets it. She gets all the confusing, often contradictory emotions. How one tries to cling to all the little things only to find them slipping away with time. How unfair it is. Reading those sections, I was too torn apart to be impressed with how well Nelson captures the feelings. I don’t think I’d ever read a book that got what is like to lose someone you love so young. I read a few reviews that said they couldn’t not stand Lennie as a narrator, but I related too much to her story and to her to feel anything but compassion. I found a lot of comfort in this book even as it brought to surface the rawness of what it is like to lose someone.