Saturday, November 5, 2011

Life and Love After Loss: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Love triangles of some kind seem to be popping up more and more frequently in young adult fiction--a trend that could be connected to the extreme popularity of a certain series featuring a vampire and a werewolf battling for a single human's love.  In general, I am a bit sick of love triangles; they aren't my favorite romantic cliche.  On the very surface, The Sky is Everywhere had the potential to be yet another love triangle story--albeit one touching on some larger issues of grief and recovery from loss.  Under the title on the front cover of the paperback edition, it reads: "One boy helps her remember.  The other lets her forget."  Delightfully, Jandy Nelson's debut novel is much more than this catchy tagline.

One month ago, Lennie's brilliant sister Bailey died unexpectedly while rehearsing Romeo and Juliet.  Bookish clarinetist Lennie feels completely unmoored and lost.  Although their mother left when Lennie and Bailey were extremely young, they've never truly felt alone or abandoned; raised by their garden guru and artist grandmother and sweet marriage addict Uncle Big, the Walker sisters have never lacked for family.  But now there's only one Walker sister and after a lifetime of being the companion pony to Bailey's racehorse, Lennie has no idea of who she is or what she wants without Bailey.  She's disconnected from her best friend Sarah and from her family but she feels drawn strongly to two very different boys: Bailey's quiet and heartbroken boyfriend Toby and quirky new boy and musical genius Joe.

Lennie is an endearing and sympathetic character; her grief for Bailey is intense and complex, fluctuating between confusion, anger, and despair.  Her attraction to and contrasting interactions with Toby and Joe feel equally believable; Nelson has created a genuine picture of a young woman's confusing and intense emotional and sexual development, demonstrating that the definitions of love, lust, and romance can be much more blurry than we sometimes assume and that human connection can be unexpected and diverse.  Additionally, while the romance plays a large role in the plot, The Sky is Everywhere remains very much about Lennie's larger story as she works to develop a new understanding of her identity and place in the world separate from Bailey.  Also, this novel has a lovely sense of place; the gentle and lyrical atmosphere of the small hippie-rich town of Clover, CA permeates Lennie's story.

Nelson might be trying to pack a bit too much into a single novel (Lennie's romance confusions, Bailey's secrets, the mystery of their mother's disappearance, etc.) and her writing might be a bit too metaphor-rich for some readers.  However, The Sky is Everywhere remains a stand-out debut novel packing a great emotional punch.

4.5/5 STARS  

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