Seventeen-year-old Lennie’s grandmother is highly-eccentric to say the least. Ubiquitously clothed in floral mumus, forever painting green willowy women throughout the walls of their house, and staunchly claiming that her rose garden actually causes to make people fall in love are just a few. Usually budding clarinetist and Wuthering Heights uberfan Lennie doesn’t buy into any of it, but when Garden Guru Grandma begins to have serious concerns that her sickly-spotted houseplant, which she’s always believed to mirror Lennie’s emotional well-being, will never get better, Lennie silently admits that in one case Gram seems to be right. Afterall Bails, Lennie’s older sister and best friend, is never coming back, so how can she ever recover? Although she’s closed herself off from Gram, town lothario uncle Big, and even her best tell-everything existentialist friend Sarah, Lennie does have one person who understands her grief. Surprisingly 1) it’s Toby, the first hick-skater and Bailey’s boyfriend and 2) Her heart flutters whenever he’s around. To complicate things there’s also Joe Fontaine, the new guy straight from Paris who is a gifted, heartfelt musician with a big grin and warm personality that makes Lennie melt. She likes them both for different reasons, but who will it be? As Lennie struggles with loss and identity she will discover that there’s no wrong way to grieve.
I think I may have to go on a contemporary YA reading binge on the heels of the loveliness which is Jandy Nelson’s debut novel. As you can guess from the title much of this is due to the subtlely poetic writing – which painted colorful and vivid images in my mind and even arrested me on a couple of occasions in the sheer unexpected yet fluid way Nelson took a turn from literal to figurative. This scene from the first chapter illustrates in a small way how her words provoke the imagination and transport you to another place:
Then Big joins us, plopping his enormous frame down beside Gram. We three, each with the same unruly hair that sits on our heads like a bustle of shiny black crows, stay like this, staring at nothing, for the rest of the afternoon. …It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way. (p. 3, uncorrected ARC)
Another reason The Sky is Everywhere has turned me on to contemporary YA is because of its well-drawn characters, which were quirky without being overdone, and its fresh plot, which seems to portray the complexity of one of the countless no-wrong-ways to deal with grief. The overall message of handling loss on an individual basis yet without becoming insular is one that both teens and adults will grasp. I would’ve liked to see more about Lennie’s mysterious mother, but the stunning writing, quirky characters, sweet portrayal of first love, Lennie’s revealing, scattered poetry, and I had no choice but to burn through this pretty novel.
*As a side note, without trying I couldn’t help thinking of Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever while reading. Because of it I’d hesitantly recommend this to Dessen fans, though both books are very different.