The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jandy Nelson's book I'll Give You the Sun was one of my favorite books last year. Nelson has a profound ability to name and describe complex emotions, especially those experienced during the turbulence of adolescence. Her characters feel raw and vulnerable, her writing artful and often poetic.

The Sky is Everywhere is not the masterpiece that I'll Give You the Sun is, but it still demonstrates Nelson's ability to create characters who are fully realized and intensely human. Our protagonist, Lennie, is stunned and gutted by the sudden death of her sister Bailey, struggling to keep living with the gaping hole her sister's death has caused. Withdrawing from most of the people closest to her, she finds comfort in spending time with her sister's boyfriend Toby. When they are together, she feels Bailey's presence in a way that she finds compelling and addictive. But then a new boy, Joe, comes to town. Joe is full of exuberance and joy, expressed most keenly through his musical genius. She is caught between her feelings for these two boys, one tying her to a past where her sister still lives, the other calling her to move into a future full of hope and possibility. Does she dare to dream her own dreams, live her own life, knowing her sister never can?

This is a more straightforward narrative than I'll Give You the Sun, but it covers some of the same ground. Both deal with grief and loss, the characters responding to tragedy and loneliness different ways. Both explore what it means to fall in love for the first time while grappling with the feelings of anger, sadness, and loneliness that tragedy can bring. Lennie knows that her compulsion to be with Toby is a way to hold onto a past that can never be regained, but finds it almost impossible to consider what it would mean to move past her loss and continue living. Joe, this boy who never even knew Bailey, represents the future she could create for herself, if she didn't feel as though having a future at all is an act of betrayal to her sister's memory. Nelson's prose is beautifully written, full of imagery and with a lyrical flow that helps to create the emotional impact the story carries. The Sky is Everywhere is a jewel of a book, one that proves that Nelson is no one-hit-wonder. May her career be long, and may her books continue to explore the deep emotional life of youth.

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