Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Publication Date: 2nd June 2011

Last year, I hit a dead end in my life. I found myself overcome with disappointment and despair at my failure to accomplish the writing goals I’d set for myself years earlier as a fresh-faced university graduate. The lack of direction in my career weighed heavily on my mind.

Inspired by my new-found state of melancholy, I read The Bell Jar, which left me feeling further desolate and suffocated, as though I were trapped under a bell jar of my own making. Upon reaching the book’s conclusion, I felt a desperate desire to immerse myself in a world of optimism and possibilities.

Enter Jandy Nelson’s debut YA novel, The Sky is Everywhere.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker is reeling from the tragic death of her charismatic older sister Bailey whom she adored. No longer able to bask in Bailey’s shadow, Lennie becomes the main player in her own life when she finds herself juggling the affections of two boys. Joe is the new guy in town, an exuberant musical maestro. Toby is her sister’s boyfriend who shares her grief. One helps her escape her heartbreak, whilst the other comforts her through it.

As Lennie struggles to come to terms with her sister’s passing, she recklessly throws herself into an affair with Bailey’s boyfriend. Toby is her closest connection to Bailey and the only one who understands the full extent of her misery, so you can almost forgive her for her indiscretion. But for me, the novel was all about Joe Fontaine, with “a face so animated”, whose blinding smile and infectious enthusiasm for life shone through the page.

Perhaps it was my own melancholic state that drew me to a story about loss, but this book turned out to be so much more than that. Jandy Nelson’s eloquent, heart-rending words painted a picture so vivid of Lennie’s sorrow that they subsequently broke my heart –

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

The talented author then slowly pieced my heart back together again with her beautiful and uplifting, melodic prose -

"It’s as if everything around us stops to see what’s going to happen next – the trees lean in, birds hover, flowers hold their petals still. How could he not surrender to this crazy big love we both feel?"

I laughed, cried, sighed and smiled as wide as Maestro Fontaine. At a time when I felt lost, this stunning book with its gorgeous, dream-like prose whisked me away on a blistering adventure of love, loss and new beginnings. As its central character, Lennie, fell in love, I fell in love with reading and the art of words all over again.

The wonderfully eccentric forces of nature in the form of Lennie’s grandmother and her Uncle Big, as well as Lennie herself, aided my poignant journey as a reader.  This was made possible by the painstaking, loving way in which Jandy Nelson depicts her characters, in addition to the elements of magical realism in her writing.

Nelson’s follow-up novel, I’ll Give You the Sun is due for release in September 2014. I look forward to seeing whether it lives up to the charm of its predecessor, which was a pure delight to read.

My rating:

This review was also posted at Pen and Muse.