Sunday 20 November 2016

A Review: Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere

Hi, thanks for stopping by.

Lennie Walker, seventeen, Wuthering Heights obsessed, clarinet player, band geek. Also hopeless romantic, prone to scattering poems all over town and as of four weeks ago, sisterless...

“I didn’t know love felt like this, like turning into brightness.”

Today's review is of one of my absolute favourite reads of 2016 so far. I hadn't really heard anything at all about this book before buying it, so I was completely ecstatic to discover it without any preconceptions or expectations or spoilers. The Sky is Everywhere is a story principally about grief but also containing elements of family, first love, books and personal growth. It follows Lennie, attempting to live again after losing her big sister, falling in love for the first time and finding herself. 

(P.S. Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books of all time, so the references throughout made me ridiculously happy - Lennie clearly has good taste in boys and books.)

(P.S. again... it has blue pages, which is kind of really, really cool.)

“The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet.”

When I finished reading this book, I felt so happy and sad and wonderful all at once. It was a beautiful book. One of my absolutely favourite elements of it had to be the poems, written by "Lennie" throughout. They are evidence, to me, if the story itself wasn't enough, of how incredible and versatile a writer Jandy Nelson is. One of my favourite poem quotes have to be: "Grief is a house  where no one can protect you, where the younger sister will grow older than the older one, where the doors no longer let you in or out." There were many points in the book where I felt emotional, no more so than when reading the poetry elements. I also loved the quirk in the story at the end when Joe finds all of the poems she has dotted around town.

 “In photographs of us together, she is always looking at the camera and I am always looking at her.”

I want to talk a little about the relationship between Lennie and her older sister, Bailey. As a younger sister, with a wonderful big sister, their relationship felt incredibly close to home. I definitely see parallels between their relationship and that sister relationship (where the eldest has died) explored in All The Bright Places - which I reviewed here - but I feel as though the sister focus is stronger in The Sky is Everywhere. Their relationship is brought to life, again particularly through the personal poetry, but also through the characters of Gram and Big who I absolutely adored. The relationship shared by Lennie and Bailey, although we never experience it in the present as readers, only through retrospect and memory, is so lively, so bright, so realistic. Bailey sounds like such a wonderful sister, and Lennie's pain is so palpable when she describes the loss in her life since Bailey's death.

“What do you do when the worst that can happen actually happens?”

Speaking of Gram and Big, even the minor characters in Jandy's narrative are absolutely brilliant; they are fully and brightly developed, individual, unique, funny, smart and sweet. The sense of family, despite Bailey's absence, is so strong and I was constantly glad that they all had each other in the wake of loss. 

“What if music is what escapes when a heart breaks?”

I suppose it's probably time to discuss the romantic elements of the novel. I thought the Toby storyline was actually incredibly, incredibly clever, although obviously ever so slightly odd and uncomfortable; I could feel his heartbreak and could see why they clung to each other, even if I didn't totally understand it. I was, however, obviously glad that they didn't end up together. To me, that as the full romance of the story would not have worked, and clearly that's why Jandy Nelson created the darling that is Joe. I know I've gushed about Finch and Levi in a couple of my past reviews already, but Joe was the first character I read about in the almighty trio - this was the first book I read, ahead of All The Bright Places and Fangirl - and I absolutely loved him. In many ways, he does remind me of Levi; they are both so full of life and joy and their happiness is infectious. 

“And then he smiles, and in all the places around the world where it’s night, day breaks.”

I also really appreciated the strong female-friendship presence that comes hand-in-hand with the character of Sarah. Sometimes in YA romance, female friendship just goes completely out of the window in favour of romantic relationships, but I enjoyed this exploration. I also loved, speaking of friendship, that Lennie and Joe are such great friends, too. They don't fall in love at first sight and never spend a day apart afterwards. It's realistic. 

“I don’t know how the heart withstands it.”

That awful moment where Joe sees Lennie and Toby together just broke my heart a little. I wanted to feel frustrated with Lennie - and Toby - for continuing to submit to this perceived weakness for each other, but I couldn't quite bring myself to be angry. They were both so sad, and for Toby in particular, who has no Joe-shaped joy to keep him going, being with each other was the closest they could possibly get to Bailey on earth. Joe's sadness was awful, his anger surprised me but in a good way - I was glad that he stood by his opinion. Again, often in YA, forgiveness comes too easy. Lennie doesn't get him back all that simply. Sure, Joe is a happy-go-lucky, lovely character but he is brave and strong, too.

 “Who knew all this time I was one kiss away from Cathy and Juliet and Elizabeth Bennett and Lady Chatterley?!”

This was absolutely one of my favourite books of the year. I will 10000% be re-reading this, probably quite soon, once I'm through my shelf of TRB's and Kindle full of Netgalley goodies. I could not recommend this more, really, really, really. It's sad - it made me cry, but that's not all that difficult - it's funny, it's sweet and utterly romantic, in a pretty cool, subtle way. Again, no pretentiousness (is that a word?!) or cringe, just pure loveliness. 

“You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”

Till next week


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