Monday, December 6, 2010

The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

Published by Walker Books, 2010

The Sky is Everywhere took me a long time to read. Usually I can finish a book in a few days, but this one I found I could only read bits at a time. I enjoyed it, but it’s not the kind of book that I wanted to rush through, that swept me up and made me keep turning the pages. The subject matter can’t be blamed either – yes, it is quite sad and harrowing, but I’ve read similar books that despite their tragedy still kind of eat away at me and I have to find out more. I didn’t experience that feeling with The Sky is Everywhere, but I still think it’s a worthwhile book with lots of good content about relationships and grief and family dynamics.
The story follows seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker as she struggles to cope with the aftermath/shock of her sister Bailey’s death. Lennie is a bookworm and a band geek and has been pretty happily living in her older sister’s shadow. But when Bailey dies, Lennie must scrape together her own identity away from her sister, deal with family conflict both past and present, and make sense of the conflicting feelings she feels towards Bailey’s old boyfriend, Toby, and newcomer in town, Joe Fontaine.
I like what this book has to say about grief and love and how they are never simple and how they so very often go hand in hand. The book’s strongest point was how Bailey’s death impacted on those family she left behind: Lennie, Grams and Uncle Big. The plot about Lennie’s missing mother is also worked in quite nicely and never feels like an intrusion into the central story – in fact it helps give depth and meaning to what Lennie is going through. Grams and Big are great characters, and you can feel the affection they have for each other – the way they interact is spot on.
Another strength of The Sky is Everywhere is that it is actually pretty funny and quirky, despite the subject matter. Some lovely prose, both physical and emotional, and also some nice lines and dialogue. At times I felt Nelson was being a little too clever and obvious, and it annoyed me, but there is a lovely natural feel to the way most characters speak, and it is refreshing to read.
My least favourite part was the lovey-dovey stuff. The stuff with Toby was fine – I understood it, and it was never over the top. I understood the desperation that led to he and Lennie being drawn to each other. But the stuff with Joe Fontaine I just didn’t get. Sometimes it even strayed into Twilight territory – Joe Fontaine is so gorgeous, his smile, his smile, his smile, he is too cute, too amazing, etc. For someone that is supposed to be the all-consuming love of Lennie’s life, there is a lot of focus on the physical – I never understood just what he did for her, apart from being gorgeous, that made her think he was the answer to all her trouble and pain. I just think it was a little too intense a little too fast. All the Wuthering Heights stuff was also a bit overdone – give all the classic references a rest, I don’t think it added anything to the text. Someone doesn’t know everything about love just because they like Wuthering Heights.
Generally I think Nelson told Lennie’s story quite well, but sometimes I just feel it is a little too much, a little too overdone. I like understated simplicity – it’s just a personal taste. When I have to arrive at my own conclusions, can feel the heart of the novel creeping up on me and gradually sinking in, then I am pulled into the story and held tight. This is not what The Sky is Everywhere is about – it is about huge, all-consuming emotion and how it eats you up. I didn’t feel immersed in it, kind of just whacked over the head. So I wasn’t completely won over, but I still think it is a book that should be read. And the design of it is gorgeous, as well.

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