Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson


What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her (dead) sister's boyfriend the previous night? Speaking of which, what kind of girl makes out with her sister's boyfriend, at all?
It wasn't the brief book blurb that caused The Sky is Everywhere to leap off the bookshop shelves, onto the counter and beckon to my purse, but the unique style and format of the book itself. About the size of a small paperback, but squarer with a cover that is not-hardback, not-paperback but a kind of stiff, rough-textured card. The text inside is blue - like ink, perhaps, or the sky of the title - and the book held shut by a strip of elastic, like a decent notebook, or a journal. This book promised secrets.

I resisted this book's charms for a while, as I had read other books dealing with the subject of grief, (Hold Still, Twenty Boy Summer,) and I didn't think that I would like the main character, Lennie. What kind of girl does want to kiss boys at her sister's funeral? But in the first sentences I couldn't help warming to Lennie. Her elder sister, Bailey, who Lennie adored, died suddenly at the age of nineteen, leaving Lennie devastated. But in the wake of her sister's death, Lennie has started to come alive and discover who she is without Bailey's shadow to hide in. And it just so happens that at the exact same time, she starts to notice boys.

Despite its sad themes, The Sky is Everywhere is full of humour in Lennie's narration and a quirky cast of characters who are much more vivid than most young adult books. Lennie is the protagonist, seventeen years old and clarinettist in the school band. She seems to be drifting apart from her best friend Sarah, an outgoing, outrageous girl who changes her style every day, and the two girls really long for their friendship to be what it was before Bailey's death changed everything. Lennie lives with her Gram, an extraordinary flower gardener, and her Uncle Big - "arborist, resident pothead and mad scientist," wannabe Casanova - he's been married five times and trying for a tidy half dozen. The narration is full of quirky little observations - music teacher known as Yoda, for example or a fit of hysterical laughter compared with "a crazy relative who shows up at the door with pink hair, a suitcase full of balloons, and no intention of leaving."

Music, flowers and romantic novels, especially Wuthering Heights, are recurring motifs in this novel, and it presents a different picture of California and American high schools to what I'm used to seeing in books and film. Instead of the usual cheerleaders, cliques, locker-lined halls, cafeterias and the occasional biology lab, for Lennie the heart of school is the band, and somehow this felt more like high school as I knew it. We didn't have cheerleaders or lockers in the corridors (too narrow!) and the school canteen was best avoided. We did have music though, a jazz band (and was there an orchestra? Must have been!) a choir and various dramatic productions going on.

As well as the music, Lennie writes poetry, scribbles it down on any surface handy - at one point the narrative describes her attempting to write a poem on the sole of her shoe. She jots down her thoughts, memories of Bailey and remembered conversations, putting her thoughts onto paper (or shoe, or bathroom wall...) to try to straighten them out and make sense of the world. This is something I do myself - I carry a notebook in my handbag at all times, even post-its and a mini Sharpie if I don't have room for anything else - so it made me warm to Lennie further. Unlike me, though, Lennie lets her writing go, hides it all around the town, and between the chapters are included photographs of her poetry and a note where each piece was found.

Lennie's two romantic interests are Toby, Bailey's bereaved boyfriend, who gravitate towards each other to try to fill the Bailey-less hole, and Joe, new boy in the school band, who gets to see Lennie without the spectre of Bailey hanging over her. This was a love triangle that didn't feel forced, didn't seem to be put in to liven up a dull romance, or just because Love Triangles Are The In Thing. Although it was clear that Lennie was in too deep and heading for trouble, you could understand what got her tangled up in the situation she found herself in. An accessibly arty novel, with vibrant characters and rich, poetic language.

2 comments:

  1. I had been avoiding this one as well, not so much because of the grief but because of the dreaded triangle. I am SO done with them! So many people have said that this one is different though so I bought it. Great review.

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  2. This was a really great review! I've seen the cover around, but haven't heard much about the book itself. I think I'm going to have to add this one to my tbr!! Thanks for the great review!

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