The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

sky-is-everywhereCindy: We don’t let our teens in book club get away with this, but I just want to say “I really, really, reaaaallly like this book.”

Ok. So you probably want details about The Sky is Everywhere (Dial, 2010). Lennie’s older sister, Bailey, died suddenly of an arrhythmia and Lennie feels like “someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.” Lennie lives with her Gram and Uncle Big and each of them is dealing (or not) with their grief in a different way. Gram paints and gardens, Uncle Big smokes weed. Both of them fret over Lennie. After years of disinterest in boys, Lennie is shocked to find herself alternately in the arms of her sister’s grieving boyfriend, Toby, and the new French boy at school, Joe Fontaine. Toby understands her horrific loss and helps her feel close to her sister; Joe helps her forget her pain.

There are other issues, most importantly Lennie’s unresolved feelings toward a mother who walked out sixteen years ago and never returned or contacted her two daughters, but it is Lennie’s raw emotions over the loss of her sister that carry the story. Infused with music (she’s a band geek), found poetry (she writes poems on all sorts of papers and vessels and leaves them all around her community, and literature (Lennie loves to read, especially Wuthering Heights) there’s nothing not to like and this will be enormously popular with older teen girls. Add in my favorite elements of dueling emotions that make me laugh and cry and a fabulous inter-generational relationship between Gram and Lennie, and this book has my name all over it. It also will appeal to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen. I listened to this book on audio (Brilliance Audio, 2010) and the narrator, Julia Whelan, was perfect for Lennie as were the touches of clarinet music. You know it’s a good book if I want to keep folding laundry for an excuse to listen!

Lynn: I am with Cindy on this extraordinary book. I am reduced to stammering admiration for the sheer quality of the writing. Nelson writes about strong emotions: raw grief, shameful guilt, soaring first love and hopeless rejection. Most of us tackle those subjects and manage at best to sound melodramatic, self-absorbed – a cliche’. Instead Nelson writes with a lyrical intensity whose truth pierces the heart. Her images are at once stunningly original and yet achingly familiar. “YES.” I kept thinking, ” This is exactly how it feels.” These are the words wound into our DNA, coursing through our veins, surging from whatever place our souls reside.

Then there is character development – all the characters are richly complex and so real the pages almost beat with their pulses. I adored them all from Gram in her floral dresses and enormous heart (to match her feet) to Uncle Big, the arboreal swain – in love with being in love even after 5 marriages. Lennie, whose pain and joy became mine, is a character I won’t ever forget. Who could resist a family of “road-readers” – the people on their street know to drive slowly just in case one of them is “out strolling and particularly rapt.”

Nelson’s use of images and descriptive writing is masterful and I lived with her characters for every experience of every page of this ultimately triumphant book. I have an urge to quote vast chunks of the prose and the found poetry but I will try to reign in my enthusiasm and stop. Go experience this for yourselves and pass it on to every high school reader you know.

Cindy: I’m shocked. Lynn raving about a “grief” book that makes her cry is a rare thing and confirms the quality of this book. Of course, now she will have to delve into a month of sci-fi and fantasy reading to cleanse herself. Just thought I’d warn you.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.