The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

On Life And Living (Review: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson)

The Sky Is Everywhere
Jandy Nelson
Walker Books 2010

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.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

This title had been on my wish list for a while and I thought that it looked like a fair to middling sort of read. When it came out last week I was in the process of reading Looking For Alaska by John Green (fabulous, BTW) and felt that that was enough pondering on mortality and sex for me in one week, thank you very much. However, I then started seeing excerpts of The Sky Is Everywhere popping up in other people's blogs and realised that it could be something interesting so ordered it straight away. I read it almost in one sitting and it is, so far, one of my favourite books this year and certainly the best by a debut author.

Firstly, it is beautiful to look at. The UK version is bound like a journal with a rough texture finish and a blue elastic strap to stretch around the pages and is certainly not like anything else out there at the moment. It is printed in lovely blue ink which was just so, so pretty. Additionally, there are handwritten poems scrawled throughout its pages, photographed on paper cups, candy wrappers, bits of newspaper, bark and bathroom tiles among other things (all in full colour). I spent a good half hour just leafing through my copy when it first arrived – it was like a beautifully wrapped present. On getting over my sheer delight at getting an object d'art when all I'd been expecting was a book, my first thoughts were that the publishers must have thought it was some story if they put such a lot into the book design, as I don't imagine it was cheap to produce. Luckily for them, they were right.

This is in large part thanks to some quite spectacular writing. Breathtaking and beautiful, Jandy Nelson's prose billows out of the book in huge, overwhelming waves. It should be too much, but it's not. Lennie's grief for sister Bailey is not a quiet one and screams out of her in a vicious waterfall of loss, yearning, desire and love because Lennie is not dead – she is very, very much alive. While in the very depths of mourning, Lennie finds herself drawn towards Bailey's boyfriend Toby and a whirlwind of tears, lust and raw need ensues. This could have been distasteful, but instead it is gut-wrenchingly sad. Simultaneously, a new boy enters Lennie's life in the shape of Joe Fontaine – gentle, kind, happy and above all, able to offer Lennie solace and escape as someone who knew her only after Bailey's death. The narrative follows Lennie as she moves back and forth between light and shade, Toby and Joe. I am sure that many profound things have been said about sex and death and I'm not going to try and be clever about it. In The Sky Is Everywhere sex is portrayed as life-affirming in the most literal way. Toby and Lennie's desire makes them feel alive when nothing else does and in doing so makes them feel closer to Bailey, despite the horrendous guilt that it also brings. Lennie's desire and love for Joe is also life-affirming in the truer, more existential sense. He makes her feel healthy, strong, happy and hopeful. More than anything, while Toby makes Lennie feel real in that she feels close to Bailey, Joe allows her to be true to herself and therefore feel truly alive.

For me, everything in The Sky Is Everywhere is gloriously, vividly alive. The only thing dead in the book is Bailey and perhaps the sad shadow that is Toby – a character made two-dimensional in his grief only scraping a reprieve towards the last few pages. Creaking trees, magical roses, music, tears and magnificent smiles jump off the page and it is impossible not to rejoice in the sheer vividness of Lennie's everyday life. Be it what lifts you up or what tethers you down, Jandy Nelson reminds us that it is all life and is there to be embraced and above all, lived.

On a final and somewhat lighter note, I would personally very much like to have a set of Fontaine brothers. They could live in my closet. I would take them out whenever I felt sad and they would make me feel better and save on my electricity bills.

Bat. Bat. Bat.



Lauren said…
I love the way you write! Especially the line about Nelson's prose billowing out of the book in overwhelming waves... that's so beautiful and I can imagine *exactly* what that'll feel like to read.

I'm incredibly excited about reading this one, and I just adore the presentation. I've got a copy on the way but I'm still checking it out in stores because it's so lovely.
Nomes said…
Oh - i have this one coming to me right now from the UK! I am even more super excited now that you mentioned how beautiful the book is in terms of the whole journal thing! Can't wait to check it out.

Also great to hear how much you loved it :)

Nice review.

Robby said…
I cannot WAIT to read this.
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