Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★
When a shroud of mourning drapes itself on your world, how would you able to see the sky again? Looking up is just a misconception: “The sky is everywhere—it begins at your feet.”
Meet Lennon “Lennie” Walker: teenage bookworm, band geek, clarinet-player, and Heathcliff fangirl. All her life she’s always been the sidekick, the shadow, and the second-placer to her older sister Bailey. That is why when Bailey dies, she is forced to take the center stage and choreograph her own life’s dance while dealing with her grief...and juggling two guys for a previously non-existent love life.
This is The Sky is Everywhere: fueled by sorrow that gradually enmeshes itself with music, poetry, and love, until later on it transfigures into a bright new entity that encourages you to live instead of just to exist.
Contemporary romantic tragedies, particularly ones that kill off beloved characters near the end, can be counted as chick lit staples nowadays. I am not a happy-ever-after junkie but for some reason, this kind of books never became my cup of tea. I do not pick them up when I feel like I need to pepper my reading challenges with something from the chick lit shelf. If you ask me, stories that start with a death of someone you never knew or loved are more appealing. They have a quiet, morose charm that automatically tugs at your curiosity, and the author will attempt to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of this person in your mind, a patchwork of memories that made the other characters love him/her so much. In the end, if the author is successful, the tale will leave you a lingering feeling that will make you say, “I wish I met him/her before he died.”
I expected The Sky is Everywhere to be such a book, but it is not exactly like that. For a story that initially revolves around a gloomy concept, it is incredibly…loud. Loud with all the emotions our bereft heroine is trying to shut inside her private world, loud with all the reckless ping-pong of reasons between logic and emotions, loud with all the off-key melodies of a heart that deliriously tiptoes on two tightropes. Lennie’s only outlet for the excess songs is scattering her poems all over town, hoping that in some way, she can mark the world with her story. The poems, which are mostly about her sister, appear at the beginning of almost every chapter:
The morning of the day Bailey died, she woke me up
by putting her finger in my ear.
I hated when she did this.
She then started trying on shirts, asking me:
Which do you like better, the green or the blue?
You didn’t even look up, Lennie.
Okay, the green. Really, I don’t care what shirt you wear…
Then I rolled over in bed and fell back asleep.
I found out later
she wore the blue
and those were the last words I ever spoke to her.
(Found written on a lollipop wrapper on the trail to the Rain River)
The tones of Lennie’s poems change throughout the novel, especially when she falls in love (we will get to that later).
The thing about Bailey is even if she is dead, her presence lingers thickly in every turn of the plot. The author still stitches together an image of her, but in the end you will not say “I wish I met her before she died” because in the course of the story, you did meet her. I guess Nelson’s hypnotic duet of poetry and prose made this possible. :)
I find the romantic aspect of the novel quite fine. Funny and loyal Joe Fontaine, with his eyelash-batting and guitar-playing (and his being from Paris, if I may add), does not stray that much from the common teenagers’ fantasy of Mr.Right. Toby, the other guy, is Bailey’s skateboarding boyfriend. I shared Lennie’s embarrassment and guilt when she and Toby start a confusing, illogical affair, although I came to understand how both of them were just trying to fill the void that Bailey left behind in their lives.
My favorite part is that even if the main male characters did contribute to Lennie’s growth, neither can be considered as her complete Knight in Shining Armor. Lennie comes out of her shell on her own; she begins to stand up for the things she believe in, she learns to bravely rectify the mistakes she make, and ultimately, she accepts her worth as an individual. Not just someone’s “shadow, sidekick, and second-placer.”
To those who think this is a darkish novel, it is not. It has just the right amount of humor that bursts even in the first pages, balanced out by the overall poignant feel of the story.
I give this four out of five stars.