4 To-Go Cups for The Sky is Everywhere

Posted Apr 21 2011, 7:01 am in ,

This month, Book Hungry reviewed THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, by Jandy Nelson.

The book is Jandy’s debut novel and is divided into two parts. In Part One, we’re introduced to Lennon Walker, a seventeen-year-old band geek whose sister, Bailey, recently died a sudden natural death, and the supporting characters – Gram, the grandmother raising Lennon after her mother took off, Uncle Big, a compulsive ladies’ man, Toby, the boy who might have been her brother-in-law someday, and Joe – a newcomer who never knew Lennon’s sister, Bailey, but wants to know Lennon. There’s a best friend, Sarah, and a nemesis, Rachel, but know this: all of Jandy’s characters are unusual and wonderfully, deliciously flawed.

The story opens with Lennon or “Lennie’s” first day back to school since Bailey’s death. Jandy writes with an economy of words packed with such vivid punch, I found myself envying her sentence structure.

…the hall does a Red Sea part when I come in, conversations hush, eyes swim with nervous sympathy, and everyone stares as if I’m holding Bailey’s dead body in my arms, which I guess I am. Her death is all over me, I can feel it and everyone can see it, plain as a big black coat wrapped around me on a beautiful spring day.

What’s truly unique about this novel is there is no antagonist… except perhaps for the grief itself, which looms dark and large and makes Lennie do strange things – like the passionate physical encounters with Toby, her dead sister’s boyfriend. Meanwhile, Joe Fontaine, the new kid in town, presents Lennie with an exciting alternative – the chance to keep happiness and fun and music in her life.

But every time Lennie finds herself laughing or feeling good, Bailey dies all over again and the darkness returns. Part One is devoted to Lennie refusing to be anything but Bailey’s sister. Dead Bailey’s sister, as macabre as that may sound. Lennie refuses to box up Bailey’s belongings in the room they share. She refuses to play first chair clarinet, despite having the talent for it. She refuses to see that everyone is hurting, not just her, and spends much of her time writing gut-wrenching poems and letters to Bailey that she scatters on the wind. Jandy includes these notes in the book, allowing us to truly feel the depths of Lennie’s agony.

Joe, since he’s new, doesn’t understand the grief and doesn’t know Bailey and therefore, can’t know Lennie as Bailey’s sister. He knows her only as Lennie – or “John Lennon.”  Joe is stunning. Jandy describes him with having a smile bigger than the continental United States in one chapter and longer than average eyelashes that give him an almost supernatural power over the opposite sex. (It worked for me!) Joe is tenacious about wanting to play with Lennie – he on guitar, she on the clarinet – but doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand that Bailey’s sister can’t do it.

That’s okay. Joe isn’t interested in Bailey’s sister. He wants Lennon. He wants her so badly, he’s willing to forgive her just about any transgression – except one.

And that brings us to Part Two.

While grief played a central role in the first part of this book, this is not – at its heart – a story about grief. It’s a story about life and love and hope. In Part Two, the various quirks and oddities in Lennon’s family are explored a bit more deeply and we learn why her mother is gone, why she turned down first chair, and why Toby can’t stay away from Lennon and it’s nothing to do with love.

I don’t think I’m divulging any spoilers when I say this story was never a love triangle among Joe, Toby, and Lennon. There are no teams here. Toby and Lennon are united only by their refusal to let go of Bailey. But Joe and Lennon are in love. In Part Two, Lennon understands that by clutching the memory of Bailey so tightly, she caused more pain.

When she finally accepts this and opens her eyes to the pain around her, things improve – slowly – but nevertheless they improve and this is why I believe this to be a story of hope. My only complaint is Jandy failed to give Toby enough spot light. So, I give this four out of five to-go cups.

Why to-go cups? Buy a copy and read the story. You’ll find out. In the mean time, please visit the blogs for each of my Book Hungry partners and see what they thought of The Sky is Everywhere.

If you’ve read this novel, tell me what you thought of it. Better yet, recommend one I haven’t read!



4 responses to “4 To-Go Cups for The Sky is Everywhere”

  1. abby says:

    a very thorough review! and interesting that you thought toby wasn’t given enough of the spotlight. i kind of wanted him to have LESS because i wanted more of joe and lennie and the love and hope part of the story.

  2. Patty says:

    Well, only because their relationship was so twisted. They both knew it. And we know Lennie hated it but couldn’t stop.

  3. Jeannie says:

    I said this to Abby, you guys have been reading some awesome YA. If you haven’t read MATCHED, by Allie Condie put that on your list. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of dystopian fiction with a gentler edge than THE HUNGER GAMES.

  4. Kelly B says:

    I agree with Abby, I wanted Toby to have less too. I personally am not the biggest fan of writing in the first person as Karla already knows. For me the problem with writing in the first person is you only get the perspective of that person. If this story had been told in third, the author could have explored what was going on in Toby’s head without him having more read time and therefore explained him just a little better. Maybe I wouldn’t have been scratching my head over that so much if it had been clearer that when he looked at Lennie he felt that Bailey was still here. I don’t know though.

    PS love the new website and I am sorry that I only just realized this is where the blog is. I am going to fix my link today.