Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Review: "The Sky is Everywhere" by Jandy Nelson

Jandy Nelson doesn't just write books—she creates dazzlingly beautiful, poetic masterpieces of words and images, which leave you breathless and shaken to your core, your mind spinning. Her second book, I'll Give You the Sun (see my review), still holds a place in my heart and my brain almost four years after I read it, and it made my list of the best books I read in 2014.

I've always wanted to read her debut novel, The Sky is Everywhere, but I've held back, because it made me happier knowing there was still one of her books I had yet to read. But after being a bit of an emotional wreck after seeing Love, Simon this past weekend (what an amazing movie), I thought why not just plumb my emotional depths? Once again, this book had me crying, exclaiming aloud at some of her words, and seriously wanting to applaud when I was done. (And I thought her second book was a tiny bit better than this one!)

"I wonder why bereaved people even bother with mourning clothes when grief itself provides such an unmistakable wardrobe."

Lennon—Lennie for short—is consumed with crushing grief after the death of her older sister, Bailey. Bailey, an aspiring actress, was larger than life, dramatic, a force of nature drawing everyone into the centrifugal force of her being. Lennie, more cerebral, a musician, was more than happy to play second fiddle to her sister, who has been her protector since their mother left them with their grandmother when they were little.

"He was telling us that Thoroughbred racing horses have these companion ponies that always stay by their sides, and I remember thinking, That's me. I'm a companion pony, and companion ponies don't solo. They don't play first chair or audition for All-State or compete nationally or seriously consider a certain performing arts conservatory in New York City...they just don't."

In the wake of Bailey's sudden death, Lennie is emotionally adrift, and amazingly, the only anchor she can find is Toby, Bailey's boyfriend, of whom Lennie was always a little bit jealous. Suddenly their relationship is overcome by intense longing and passion, something that Lennie has never felt before, yet she isn't sure whether she actually wants Toby, or if being with him is a way of preserving her sister. And when a breathtakingly handsome new boy, an immensely talented musician, comes to school, Lennie finds herself falling for him with an intensity she never knew possible, yet it is an intensity complicated by her feelings for Toby.

"I kiss him. I mean really kiss him, like I've wanted to do since that very first day in band. No sweet soft peck about it. With the same lips that just kissed someone else, I kiss away his question, his suspicion, and after a while, I kiss away the someone else too, the something else that almost just happened, until it is only the two of us, Joe and me, in the room, in the world, in my crazy swelling heart. Holy horses."

The Sky is Everywhere is a book about how we attempt to cope with crushing loss, and how we are often blind to how those we love are dealing with the same grief. It's a book about how love consumes us, bewitches us, makes us believe we are the only ones who have ever felt this way, and that it's okay to act impetuously, foolishly, carelessly with others' feelings.

At the same time, this is also a book about finally finding yourself after willingly standing in shadow for so long, about coming into your own and finding the courage to act, and about understanding how your past shapes your future. Nelson's storytelling fills you with emotion, makes you root for her characters, and just leaves you gasping with amazement at times because of her word choices and the feelings Lennie is experiencing. You want to hug her and protect her, yet you want to shake her, too, because of her single-mindedness as she ignores her family members and friends.

I hope Nelson has another book in store for us soon. Not everyone enjoys YA books as much as I do, but Nelson's books are so beautifully written, so intensely felt, that you're missing out. She is a talent that deserves to be experienced, and her stories deserve to be read.

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