The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

From the book jacket: Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Lo sputters: I don’t even really know where to begin. I’ve literally just closed the back cover, heaved out the most satisfied of sighs, and then leaped up, sprinted to the computer, and started furiously typing. This book is, simply put, breathtaking.

I was nervous about reading it, and even though many people whose Book Opinions I put above all others told me I MUST READ IT NOW – still, I hesitated. My brother died in a car accident when I was fifteen, only days before his twenty first birthday.  Now, I have a living sister whose life I treasure with this kind of terrified, adoring cling, and sibling death books haunt me. There are some lines in this book that felt so perfectly crafted that I almost hated them.

-I don’t have a clue what to do with my face or body or smashed up heart.
-My sister dies over and over again, all day long.
-I can’t shove the dark out of my way.
-When I introduced Bailey, I felt like I was presenting the world’s most badass work of art.

It’s hard to be reminded that there is someone who is gone before they made all of the wonderful memories of a lifetime truly lived, or that the memories that were made have been completely erased from the world’s Library of Memories. And this is the opening subject of the book; admittedly, it could hit a reader with a spiked mace of painful WHOMP.

But somehow, like Gayle Foreman with If I Stay and Where She Went, Jandy Nelson manages to convey grief without writing a book that feels repellingly leaden with its sadness.  What’s more, without even one awkward seam, Nelson weaves in all of the other things that are happening at seventeen: fears, sexuality, longing, loneliness, inconsistency, confusion, misunderstanding, discovery, mistakes, lust.

Each character explodes from the pages, wildly eccentric and wonderful. MY GOD I JUST LOVE THEM ALL SO MUCH. Okay, sorry, I have regained my grip. Even amidst this cast of wacky LOVELYS, Lennie doesn’t feel like a generic cardboard character the reader can sneak behind to peek through the cut-out face. Between each line you can see that only someone as truly dimensional as Lennie would be able to describe her loved ones so deliciously.

[And Joe. Joe Fontaine. HOLY UNF you guys. BAT BAT BAT, indeed. There will be a swoony boy post on him, I guarantee it. (I may or may not be writing it next).] (Note: Christina hasn’t read this one yet and has no idea what BAT BAT BAT means)

The writing is perfection. Nelson slips in these kick ass phrases: “Jealousy mad dogs through me”, “…light drains out the windows, zebra-ing the room with long, dark shadows,” (and new words: “dildonic” is probably my new favorite) with this enviable, golden smoothness. She lays out a world – with resurrecting pyramids and exploding cakes and magical roses – that I’m pretty sure must be real, somewhere (just nod and agree with me here). Her words wrap you up and make you feel like running and laughing and laugh-crying and then finally just letting out some fat, wet, satisfying tears. The moments of Lennie’s grief are so powerful, they actually ache. But for me, in the end it was a comforting ache, a reminder that loss is exactly just like this, and that life carries on in its chaotic, oblivious, perfect carnival anyway.

There is so much to love about this book – far too much for me to fit into a Swoony Rec post. I just… I feel. I feel so much after reading this, and can’t wait for my kids and husband to wake up from their naps so I can put on loud music, and dance and kiss them, and pour myself a huge glass of red wine and tell my family that I love them with all of that wild, crazy abandon that makes them completely irreplaceable.

This one gets: Straight to the Favorites Pile, I Will Reswoon Soon, Badass Chick on Board, Swoony Boy Alert. That’s right, the whole enchilada.

About the author: Jandy Nelson has a BA from Cornell, an MFA in poetry from Brown, and another MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Jandy’s a literary agent, a published poet and a devout romantic. The Sky Is Everywhere is her first novel. The Los Angeles Times calls it: “unusually rich with both insight and breathless romance,” The Denver Post: “a brilliant piercing story,” and The Daily Beast says: “Those who think young-adult books can’t be as literary, rich and mature as their adult counterparts will be disabused of that notion after reading The Sky Is Everywhere.” It has been translated into thirteen languages. WebsiteGoodreadsTwitter