Title: The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Rating: 5 Stars
The Sky is Everywhere is the type of novel that makes me devastated that I only know five languages. You see, perhaps if I knew more words in different languages I could find that one perfect word to describe what this book is. All I know is that it doesn’t exist in the English language. Nelson’s debut is a raw, visceral experience, one that you need to live through yourself to understand its beauty. It’s the type of novel that makes me realize that I’ve been looking at the world the wrong way all my life, but maybe I’ll see it with new eyes now.
From the surface, The Sky is Everywhere seems to be your run-of-the-mill contemporary story of love, loss, and growing up. In some ways it is, but it is also so much more. Lennie Walker has just lost her older sister, Bailey, who is the pillar of her existence. While Lennie re-reads Wuthering Heights in her spare time, practicing her clarinet in a corner, it is Bailey who goes out into the world, making her imprint on everyone she comes across. Without Bailey, Lennie is left alone with only her Gram and Big, her uncle. Now, lost and alone, Lennie feels as if no one can understand her pain.
No one, that is, except Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend the boy who somehow makes Lennie’s pain recede. Very quickly, their relationship escalates into a phase that can only be described as clearly-not-platonic. Yet, while we watch as Lennie slowly makes her life spiral into what is sure to be a train-wreck of a disaster, Nelson enables us to simultaneously understand what grief can make you do. With Toby, Lennie finds someone who feels the loss of Bailey just as sharply as she does. Moreover, the loss Lennie feels comes at a time when she is confused about her sudden outbursts of sexual need. All in all, it seems as is Lennie is a character doomed for tragedy.
There was once a girl who found herself dead.
She peered over the ledge of heaven
and saw that back on earth
her sister missed her too much,
was way too sad,
so she crossed some paths
that would not have crossed,
took some moments in her hand
shook them up
and spilled them like dice
over the living world.
The boy with the guitar collided
with her sister.
"There you go, Len," she whispered. "The rest is up to you."
When Joe and Toby meet, though, and the two halves of Lennie’s life – one filled with grief and the other filled with love – come together, Lennie is left alone. It only now that Lennie begins to realize the truth about grief. What I love about The Sky is Everywhere is that it is a quirky novel about flawed characters who, no matter who else they have for them, have to make their way in life by themselves. Whether it is Toby and Lennie, who are drawn together and then apart because of their grief, or Gram and Big, who are experiencing this tragedy in their own way that Lennie fails to understand, each of them ultimately comes to terms with what this loss means all on their own. Ultimately, this journey is one that needs to be self-realized.
The Sky is Everywhere is a beautifully written novel, dispersed with small poems or snippets of conversation that Lennie writes on discarded pieces of paper or cardboard and throws right back where she found them. It is these poems that give us the most insight into Lennie’s heart and the depth of her hurt. Moreover, her day-to-day life is filled with unexpected moments of grief where, quite suddenly, Lennie aches for her sister’s presence. Growing up in a household without a mother, Lennie and Bailey have formed a bond that is closer than that of even most sisters which makes the pain Lennie feels all the more acute and nuanced.
One of the greatest adventures Lennie undertakes throughout this story is the one of her missing mother. Gram has always told Bailey and Lennie that their mother is an adventurer, the type of person who cannot be tied down to one spot, but, they should never worry for she will return home one day. According to Gram, it’s a gene the Walker’s have, one that makes them just get up and leave, only to return decades later. As Lennie comes to terms with what her missing mother means to her – and meant to her sister – though, she gradually comes to learn about herself along the way. Even more, Lennie comes to realize the gift that is her family. Although Lennie may not have a conventional family, it is one full of love and through her grief, Lennie never realizes what a pillar they are for her, even when Bailey is gone. It is this relationship of family, of re-defined lines of mother-daughter relationships that truly struck a cord with me more than anything else in this story.
The Sky is Everywhere is a novel with a little bit of everything – romance, first love, grief, loss, heartache, friendships, family, music, literature, happiness, and best of all, finding yourself. Unfortunately, my review barely even begins to cover the depth, poignancy, and beauty of this novel. Nothing I can say will ever do it justice. Jandy Nelson has written a debut that makes its way into your heart and lives there with you, ever-present in your thoughts. In the few short weeks since I first picked it up, I’ve already gone back and highlighted my favorite passages (read: the whole book) and added post-its with my thoughts on the most contemplative areas (read: every chapter). It’s a novel I will cherish and read and re-read throughout my life. I just know it.