The Sky Is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson
How does one describe a deep and irreparable loss? When 17-year-old Lennie tries to put into words what it feels like after the sudden death of her older sister, Bailey, one April afternoon from a fatal arrhythmia, she says, “It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.” No rules apply. Not even the laws of Nature.
From the first paragraph, Jandy Nelson brilliantly navigates Lennie’s course between despair and hope, sorrow and humor: “Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots.” Gram is a Garden Guru, whose roses are known to cause “mad love to flourish.” This particular spotted houseplant, Gram believes, “reflects [Lennie’s] emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.” Lennie has come to believe it too.
Lennie shared everything with Bailey—a bedroom, their hopes, their fears. In their town, they were famous for “road-reading,” Lennie walked while reading her copy of Wuthering Heights, Bailey with her copy of Like Water for Chocolate. Now Lennie is shutting out everyone who’s been close to her. She’s stopped her private lessons on the clarinet, and eats lunch alone in the treetops at school. The only one who seems to understand her is Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby. She also finds a welcome companion in Joe Fontaine—the too-good-to-be-true gorgeous classmate who arrived at school during Lennie’s month-long absence and seems to excel at every musical instrument. She is torn between her attraction to Toby, with whom she feels as if she’s “pull[ing] Bailey back,” and Joe, with whom she can make a fresh start. This tug in two directions creates a tension in Lennie, and her pent-up passion has to release somewhere. Some of it escapes through the poems she scribbles on scraps of paper or a to-go cup that she drops on the banks of the Rain River, and under a bench outside Marie’s deli. Lennie sends into the world the things she can’t tell her sister. But she is silent in her sorrow with Gram and Uncle Big and her best friend, Sarah, and thinks little of how they might be grieving, too. They keep trying to reach Lennie, however, and the humor keeps erupting. Your teen will take a liking to this realistic heroine whose heart swings like a pendulum between a wish to disappear into the past and a desire to leap into the future.