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.
Review - Nelson's debut novel is a largely introspective exploration of grief and how that affects your choices, actions and those around you. In the aftermath of her sister's death, Lennie starts living a different life - one without Bailey, one without colour and purpose. Lennie's existing rather than living letting her friends fall away, her music and even her relationship with her grandmother.
Death, grief, secrets and guilt are all strong themes throughout this novel which makes it an emotional read. That being said, the numbness that cloaks Lennie seems to permeate onto the reader at times. Nelson beautifully shows the movement of Lennie's feelings, memories and loss within poems that periodically appear but some are more effective than others.
The edge of the book comes in the relationship that forms between Lennie and Bailey's boyfriend, Toby. This pairing might come from left field for some readers as they had previously had very little relationship to speak of. In their united grief they find a connection, one that shows itself in an overtly physical way. Loss manifests itself in many ways and both characters have chosen to punish themselves while touching on the person they miss most. It's a complex idea, one strongly rooted in their ability to voice their emotions instead choosing to expend them physically. It's dark and hot and tinged with much sadness.
The light and shade of grief and all the emotions that colour it were truthfully conveyed throughout. The addition of Joe and his preoccupation with Lennie and their attraction for one another contrasts well with the primal connection she shares with Toby. The author has presented an emotional tug of war that Lennie can't voice or even choose, it just is. The boys are both layered and interesting without being "bad". They are distinct from one another and each offer her something different, immediate solace or the promise of forever. Both are flawed in that their previous relationships have strongly impacted their dealings with Lennie. It's an interesting conundrum - I do wish there had been further exploration of Toby's dilemma as it is by far the most complex of the three. There is no bad person in this triangle, only strong emotions, grief and compulsion.
Lennie is serious, contemplative and very aware of the beauty that exists around her in sight and sound. She is wallowing her grief and in some respects its the romantic in her that permits hers the missteps that she makes. She makes mistakes, she allows herself to make choices that would not have occurred before her sister's death. She's not a dynamic character but she possesses a soulfulness that you don't often read.
Nelson's language and depiction of grief is beautiful, thoughtful and at times complex. Lennie is a nuanced character who subtly and quietly navigated her loss. The language was slightly problematic at times as it felt forced when the majority of the wording was so effortless. Some of the transitions between Lennie's feelings, particularly the strength of her attraction versus that of her love could also have been smoother. Nelson's attempted something complex and subtle and she's largely been successful.
The Sky is Everywhere is an all encompassing study of grief, the strength of a sisterly bond, the power of attraction and love and ultimately the importance of being true to one's self. Jandy Nelson has debuted onto the YA stage with a sensitivity and sensuousness that conveys a multitude of feelings from grief to desire to love. An absorbing read.
Published: March 9, 2010
Format: ARC, 282 pages
Source of Review Copy: publisher