Book Talk: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date:
March 9, 2010
Hardcover, 288 pages
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.

First line: Gram is worried about me.

This is a hard review to write. I can’t figure out what I want to say about this book. I’ll start with I didn’t expect much of it—which is weird, because so many people have talked about loving it. I picked up because my book bully extraordinaire kept preaching it. But it had a shaky start for me. It wasn’t the writing—because that was beautiful—or the characters—because I liked Lennie from the beginning—it was something else. Something that I hate admitting in a book review. Liking this book, reading this book, was hard for me because really, honestly, didn’t want to. But we’ve all learned those are the books that you end up falling for. This was no exception.

See, the problem is I don’t handle grief well. Grief is one of those things that doesn’t fit in a box. My life tries to be a box. I separate as many things as possible, to try to make life easier and organized. Grief always spills out. It spills out and overflows and seeps into all the other boxes. So instead of boxes, I trap grief in jars…and I never open the jars. I only pray they don’t break. If they break then everything falls apart. I fall apart. I know this is probably not healthy but it’s the way I was taught. Un-teaching takes a long time.

That’s what SKY is about. It’s about the way you can’t do that! Lennie can’t do that. She tries to act like everything is fine and amazing but really it’s not. She’s broken and cracked. She’s lost someone she allowed her whole world to revolve around. That loss has changed her. It’s changed everyone in her life. When her big sister Bailey dies, Lennie feels alone. She has no one now, no one who understands her loss. She copes the best way she can—leaving notes scattered across her life. Notes that act as memories and emotions she can’t say out loud. The other thing she does is change absolutely nothing—not the dirty laundry, not Bailey’s side of their orange room, not the pieces of hair that still sit in her sister’s hairbrush. Lennie lives in it, lives around it, and she struggles.

She’s not alone in that. She realizes it first with Toby—Bailey’s boyfriend. The two of them share this connection to Bailey, this loneliness they both feel and draws them together. It makes them both feel better in their grief together. Then, suddenly, there’s Joe. Joe is the boy who moves to town and opens Lennie’s eyes. She’s reluctant at first, unsure, but Joe tears down her walls and storms her life. He steals her heart and mends the broken pieces. But Lennie is still in too far, uncertain if she should grieve forever or move on. Uncertain of what that means. And from the first few pages of SKY, you know that when and if she figures everything out—it’s going to be explosive.

Mid-reading, I got this tweet from my bully: "I identified a lot with Lennie...so was love from the start. She could be me in many ways." My response: "I get Lennie. I think she’s that part of us that we keep in hiding."

I didn't really gather the full weight of that tweet until I finished the book. Lennie is all the emotions and feelings and thoughts that we can't say or have or feel. She's the leftovers from the pain. She's the one who's allowed to feel it and to live it and to attempt to hang on to the memories of everything when we try so desperately to move on from it.  Even in that trying, we all want to hold on. We want to stay in an orange room, hair in the brush, things untouched. We want to act like someone’s still alive, despite the huge void that's in our lives and hearts. Everyone tells us we can't do that--so we move on. Lennie doesn't. She doesn't have to, she can't and she doesn’t know how. She's the part of us that we keep in hiding, the part that still mourns even years later. 

That may be only my idea...no one else may ever see that from this book--but I did. I felt it. I wanted to be Lennie, even when she was going crazy from the pain and frustration. She made it all seem so doable, I can't explain it. I’ve dealt with loss and this book captured every moment of that for me and packaged it up in a way that I could understand it. Grief and life is a process and Nelson really explored that. 

The whole book is Lennie’s process. Her world. Her thoughts. Her loneliness & realizations & frustrations. It’s her life after death. My favorite line from this book is at the end. It’s the moment she realizes the point of everything and that maybe, just maybe, she can move on. She says this of life and death and truth: A whole bunch of stories, all going at once, in our heads, in our hearts, all getting in the way of each other. It's all a beautiful calamitous mess.


  1. What a beautiful review of SKY. You summed things up so well and even made me tear up a little remembering the story and my own experiences with grief.

    Now...what book should I bully you to read next?

  2. What an amazing review. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your review even made me tear up a bit. Thanks!

  3. AW....Crying is good for the soul. Thanks for the comments.

    And Irish---whatever you want. B/c we haven't really disagreed yet.


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