When seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker’s vibrant older sister Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is pulled out of her sleepy, safe world of books and band and into the center of her own grief. As she mourns Bailey, she also struggles to figure out what she feels for her sister’s boyfriend Toby as well as newcomer Joe Fontaine, whose musical prowess is even more pronounced than hers. Each boy helps her with her grief in different ways, but she can’t keep them both without risking everything.
Gentle readers, I feel that it is important to tell you that I loved this book so hard that it’s difficult for me to write about it. If I had read this book last year, it would have been on my top 5 list. It would have made every list. It’s that good.
Jandy Nelson’s debut is an honest exploration of grief and loss. The story of Lennie coming to terms with–and moving on from–Bailey’s death delves into what it’s like to suffer such a great loss. Nelson plays with the concept of no two people grieving the same way, and Lennie’s simultaneous guilt and excitement about her actions are spot-on. While some readers will struggle with Lennie’s actions, I found everything she did understandable and absolutely within the realm of possibility.
Nelson’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and often lyrical. The story is split up by scraps of paper that Lennie has written poetry on and stashed around her town, and these poems are both fascinating and beautiful. Many of Lennie’s memories of Bailey are explored through poetry, and it becomes clear very quickly that Lennie possesses more than one artistic talent. Her writing flows like the music she plays on her clarinet, and the reader can’t help but be entranced by each page.
Perhaps the edgiest aspect to Nelson’s book comes from the two very different relationships that Lennie enters into with Toby and Joe. Even though Toby and Lennie had very little interaction prior to her sister’s death, the two of them find solace in their shared grief over Bailey. Their relationship is fiercely, intensely physical, and the scenes between them seem to almost crackle on the page. The undercurrent of the sadness in both characters never goes away, though.
Lennie’s tentative relationship with Joe Fontaine provides the stark contrast to her relationship with Toby. Joe is drawn to Lennie, and she to him, and their mutual attraction to each other helps to illustrate the differences between both boys. Both boys provide an escape for Lennie, and she finds herself caught between them in a way that she can’t even articulate. Because Nelson is a gifted writer, both boys are multi-dimensional and flawed, each with their own distinct personalities. The one weakness present in this part of the story comes from the fact that Nelson could have explored Toby’s grief more than she does.
The Sky is Everywhere is an introspective look at grief and loss. Nelson is an absolutely skilled writer who has crafted a story that is both sensuous and heart-breaking. Highly, highly recommended.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Dial, March 2010. Library copy.