Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

5 Stars. (Young Adult)

This was a tough read. It was so intriguing. So captivating in a numbers of ways but at the same time so heartbreaking. I read two books about death and loss back to back last week, starting with Sarah Dessen's The Truth about Forever and then this book, Jandy Nelson debut. Each one hit close to home in different ways. I've experienced loss recently and reading the ways in which these two very different but equally marked girls handle their grief was at times very unsettling and heart wrenching but also oddly cathartic.

Many times during the reading of this novel, I had to close the cover for a minute just to think about what I'd read. Nelson has a way with words and her subtly is so unique that you can read a sentence and not fully absorb the impact what you've read until it hits you full force minutes later. I had this experience many times and I don't know whether it was because of my personal experience with grief or simply because of Nelson's superb talent.

The thing that stood out the most to me was coming to understand that grief and loss is an experience so subjective and personal. You can have 10 people experienced the same loss of a loved one, but out of those 10 people not one will feel the loss, or pain or grief in the same way. Emotions are messy and mixed up and no one has the right to tell you that how you're feeling or handling the loss is bad or inappropriate. At a time where you're mind is reeling and you're whole body feels raw, how a person chooses to mourn is totally up to them. So, having said this, the way Lenny ends up grieving her beloved older sister Bailey, who dies quite suddenly and tragically is confusing - yes, morally ambiguous - yes, beautiful - also yes, wrong - NO. At least in my opinion.

Jandy Nelson gives readers a very strong, but mixed up and also, not fully self conscious protagonist. Lenny is looking for love, for support, for communion with another human being when the person she relied on and loved the most in the world is ripped from her arms. She begins to mourn her sister's loss, first with a new found friendship with Bailey's boyfriend Toby. They each feel that the other is a tether to the girl they both lost. Toby and Lenny cling to each other, trying to shore up all the love they felt for this one person between them, almost as if they are trying to "put her heart back together" with the force of their own shared love for her. Things get complicated, messy and sometimes morally unclear for all characters when Lenny begins to fall for a new boy at school Joe - musical genius, lighthearted and thoroughly lovable.

So Lenny now had the boy who lets her remember and the boy who allows her to forget her grief. It's a hard journey to make, but through this story, Lenny comes to realize more about her sister and the things she thought she understood about their relationship, as well as coming to discover more about herself and the kind of girl Lenny really wants to be. She is now out of the shadow of her beautiful sister, no matter how awful the circumstances, Lenny discovers herself through her grief. The beauty of this book is that readers are brought along on that journey with Lenny and you begin to feel such an affinity with her.

The characters are well drawn and real, the setting unique and very amusing at times. The subject hard to deal with but hopeful in the end. I had many moment while readings where I read a sentence that made me cry and then right after read a scene that had me laughing out loud. It's all in the process of grieving and acceptance of loss and I think it proves Nelson's talent that she was able to seamlessly illustrate this process in her story of Lenny's loss.

Poetic, heartbreaking, beautiful and tragic, but ultimately full of hope, Jandy Nelson's debut was a 5 star read.

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