I didn’t expect to like this book, let alone love it. At first glance, it appears to be yet another one of those Teen Books Where the Sister Dies, of which there are many. Don’t get me wrong, I love this niche of teen fiction, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. In all of these books the sister who dies is generally older and unassailably cool. She usually has a boyfriend who sticks around and complicates things with the younger sister, who is equal parts grief-stricken and confused. Although these things are true of The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s impressive debut novel went above and beyond the status quo. I was swayed in part by the impressive list of accolades splashed across the back cover and also by the first page. There is a lesson to be learned in this; never judge a book until you’ve read the first page.
Something odd is happening to Lennie Walker. Her older sister has died, and all of a sudden, she has two boys who find her irresistable. One is the virtuoso trumpeter with impossibly long lashes, Joe Fontaine. The other just happens to be her dead sister’s boyfriend, the bereft and enigmatic Toby. A recipe for disaster if ever there was one. Somehow, Lennie is able to navigate the rocky terrain of love and grief and come out on the other side, grounded, hopeful, and fully alive.
I loved the setting of this book. Clover, North Carolina is a magical town that’s a touch hippie, a touch punk, and full of quirky people. It’s the kind of place where Lennie’s Gram grows a garden full of Edenic flowers known miles around for their aphrodesiac qualities. A place where a boy described as more lion than boy rides down the road on a tall stallion. And deep in the woods stands a forgotten outdoor bedroom, a wacky idea thought up by a hippie hotel-owner years ago, who still makes the trek out to change the sheets.
Lennie is a guerilla poet, writing down poems on whatever scraps she can find (a coffee cup, staff paper from music class, the backs of envelopes) and stashing them in odd places. Luckily for the reader, the author compiles these poems and uses them in between the chapters. Nelson’s poetry is just as fresh as her prose, and her snippets of Lennie’s inner thoughts really complimented to the narrative.
Jandy Nelson is a beautiful writer. Her language is quirky and surprising. There was nothing overly original about the plot, but I barely noticed because I was too busy loving the way that Nelson writes. I loved being inside Lennie’s head and walking around her world. More than anything, The Sky is Everywhere is a love story: about love between sisters; love between friends; love between families; and the explosive, earth-shattering love between new lovers. I myself am in love with his book, and look forward Jandy Nelson’s next book: Next time, I promise I won’t judge it by it’s premise.
The Sky is Everywhere is available now from Dial Books.