Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Awesome!

Who names the love interest in their book Joe? That's what I was thinking as I added The Sky Is Everywhere to my cart on Amazon. I think I clicked and unclicked this book three times. I decided to go for it since I got some great recommendations for this on Absolute Write. I am so glad that I did. I am going to attempt to tell you with words how much I love The Sky Is Everywhere, but there is no promise that I will succeed. I loved it that much.

Plot: 

At the start of the book, it's been one month since the death of Lennie's older sister Bailey. Lennie, her Gram and her Uncle Big are pretty much going through the motions, but now it's time for Lennie to go back to school. Even if summer is just around the corner.

It is while at school that Lennie first meets Joe Fontaine. She is interested in him, but feels guilt that she feels anything. Surely she shouldn't feel anything -- she should be grieving Bailey. At the same time, she is growing closer to Toby, Bailey's boyfriend. As the book blurb puts it -- "one boy takes her out of her grief and one comforts her in it." What I will tell you is that until Lennie gains the strength to face the pain of losing her sister on her own two feet -- and realizing that she's not the only one hurting -- she is on a collision course with disaster.

I could not put this book down. This is not an exceptionally long book at 272 pages, yet it took me just as long to read as the books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Why? Because the writing was so beautiful and the whole damn book so interesting that I constantly found myself re-reading parts of it because I wanted to experience them again. (And again, and again...)

The plot weaves together beautifully, combining love, grief, understanding one's past, questioning one's future, love of family, taking center stage in your own life, and just a pinch of the strange and superstitious to create something truly unique, soul shattering in it's realness and yet coated with little touches that give it a slightly magical quality. I think the best way to describe this might be: "Extraordinary moments captured within an ordinary life."

Let me put it this way: Although The Sky Is Everywhere ended perfectly (in my opinion) I sat there, having finished it, going "Wait. I don't get to follow you any further? Why are you walking away? Come back!" Not because I felt any part was incomplete, but rather because the world these characters inhabit and the joy, sorrow ... everything ... that they feel felt so real to me that I did not want it to be over.

Characters:

A large part of the magic I am describing above is because of the absolutely wonderful group of fascinating, kooky characters that pepper the pages of the book. Gram, with her ritual to get rid of bad luck and her roses that are rumored to make people fall in love. Big, who despite his strangeness seems to have no trouble finding women who want to marry him. Toby: part skater, part cowboy, all awesome. Now I'll talk about our main couple...

Lennie is a girl standing on the cusp of greatness. She has spent her whole life hiding in her sister's shadow and suddenly finds herself throwing onto the stage and into the spotlight. Watching her fumble to find her place in the world, sharing her ups and downs, was wonderful. Lennie makes mistakes, but what I really like about her is that she does eventually pay for them, learn from them, and become all the better for having experienced them. The girl we meet on page one is not the same girl that we leave on page 272. Her capacity for growth is both wonderful and believable.

Joe... Oh, man. What can I say about Joe? First up: I have a new favorite romance hero. Joe does not possess any of the usual suspects that draw me to a male lead in a book -- he doesn't have super powers, he isn't a supernatural being -- what he does have is a beauty of character that runs to the depth of his soul. A warmth, passion ad light that Nelson captures so splendidly in her description and portrayal of him that I wished I could somehow crawl inside of the book, become seventeen again, and witness for myself. And yet, Joe is not perfect. His family has issues, he has had his trust shattered in the past and he knows that he sucks at forgiving people. Joe's realness -- both the good and the bad -- is actually what makes him stand out so brilliantly, like a comet flying by in the night sky. Words cannot describe how much I loved Joe.

The characters in this book are so awesome that I felt like they could enter my head the way that my own characters do. I didn't feel like I was reading, or even watching, their story. I felt like I was living it with them. They felt that real to me.

The Romance:

For starters, this is not insta-love. There is a bit of instant attraction, sure, but to me that's not the same. Nelson takes her time and makes certain that we share Lennie's journey as she gets to know Joe. We watch their romance build and see the joy that he slowly works to bring back into her life. We watch her cling to and struggle with this joy at the same time.

In contrast we see what is happening between her and Toby. Every time stuff with Joe gets better, brighter, happier, what is happening with Toby filled me with more dread and fear for her. And it's not that she is an idiot who does not see what she risks, either. She learns about Joe's past and wants to end what is happening with Toby. Yet her grief and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with it seem to make this impossible. Watching Lennie and Toby began to feel like watching cars crash into each other in slow motion. I knew somehow, someway that something terrible was happening, and yet I could not look away.

I've been harsh on romances where cheating has been done in other reviews (most notably Anna and the French Kiss), so why am I singing the praises of The Sky Is Everywhere?

1. Lennie is not dating Joe or Toby. Her relationship with Joe is in its infancy.

2. What Lennie does with Toby happens out of grief and it makes her feel horrible.

3. When Joe finds out what Lennie has done, Lennie "pays for her crime" so to speak.

4. When Joe eventually forgives Lennie, it is on his own terms and happens after he has struggled with it for a while. The story sets Joe up with good reasons for being upset, Lennie up with understandable reasons for screwing up, and goes from there.

5. The resolution to what has happened ties together the love that is built in the first half of the book and the loss that is felt in the second half perfectly.

I also want to say that I love how the love story parallels what has happened to Lennie's family from losing Bailey. Whereas with Bailey we are looking back and seeing glimpses of what Lennie has lost, with Joe we watch something beautiful be built and then (at least in my case) cheer as Lennie tries to put the pieces back together.

I think that it is important that we see the contrast between Toby and Joe. I think it's important that we see Lennie "with" Joe and "without" Joe. I think it's important that we see Lennie beginning to stand on her own feet during the time where she and Joe are not together. Lennie is sad without him. Yet it is during this time of solitude that we see Lennie grow stronger, both for herself and for those who surround her. (I particularly liked how her relationship with Gram deepened here.)

I like the fact that Nelson never villainizes Toby. We do see Lennie's anger about what keeps happening between them, her shame and guilt and fear. But any time that she stops to try and measure out who is responsible, she never fails to put at least some of the weight squarely on her own shoulders. I also thought it was good that Toby tries to help Lennie fix the mess that he helped her end up in.

All of this would be for nothing if the way that Lennie and Joe get back together wasn't handled properly, but I felt it was beautiful in all ways: setting, sentiment, and a sense of stability -- a feeling that these two characters have gone through something like this and made it out together. That they can make it through anything.

In short: I loved the love story here.

The Handling of Grief:

I like the fact that at no point during the novel does the sadness that Lennie feels about losing Bailey suddenly, totally disappear. I like the fact that what Lennie learns and realizes is that learning to live with her grief is not the same as forgetting her sister. I like the fact that while grief can make us sympathetic toward the trials that Lennie faces in the book, the characters in the book do not allow it to absolve her (and this includes Lennie herself by the end.) of responsibility for the choices that she makes. In short, I think that this was handled beautifully.

In General:

There are so many things that I could praise in this book, but this review is already really long. The writing is fantastic. The pacing was solid; I never felt myself getting bored. I absolutely loved the little poems found throughout the book, even though with my crappy eye sight they made me dig out my magnifying glass. Trust me: You'll love them too once you get to the end and understand what they are telling you. They tied everything together in a way that words simply could not. The story wouldn't be the same without them.

There are tons of great, even awesome, books out there to be read. Yet this rises above even the best of the best in my opinion. I've spent a lot of words trying to tell you how great that I feel The Sky Is Everywhere is, and yet I still don't feel that a thing I have said can truly capture or explain how deeply I was moved by this book; how deeply I loved it. I'm always careful not to claim that something is my favorite book. Yet I will say that The Sky Is Everywhere is among my favorites. I know that I will be visiting these characters again.

If you value stories of love, of loss and of life, then you owe it to yourself to read The Sky Is Everywhere. I am confident that you will not be disappointed. 

First Recipient Of...

10 comments:

  1. Your excitement is contagious~ I'm really pumped about reading this book now.

    I know that feeling well about it taking awhile to finish a short book because you just can't stop re-reading the good parts, I love that! So it's really cool that this one did that for you.

    I really can't wait to meet the characters, now! Especially Joe. :)

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