Thursday, April 28, 2011

The sky begins at your feet: a staff review of The Sky Is Everywhere

Last March, Penguin sent our blog a review copy of Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere which Katie raved about, and with its new paperback edition, now it is my turn to sing the praises of this gorgeous book.

Let's start with the cover: a sleeping girl entwined with vines: hinting of mystery, drama, and hopefully a handsome fellow (or two?) to awaken her. Lennie Walker (short for Lennon) is sleepwalking through life after the sudden death of her talented, beautiful sister Bailey. Without the shine of her sister to both guide her and hide her, and her Uncle Ben and Gram also adrift in grief, Lennie is overwhelmed by her sisterlessness.

What I love best of the many, many shining aspects of this debut are the characters. Lennie's best friend, Sarah, is one of the more perfectly imperfect sidekicks of contemporary fiction: she is philosophically cynical, French feminism obsessed, with a Goldilocks "goth gone cowgirl" style. Add in her mad scientist, four-times-married arborist Uncle Ben, rose gardener and green-only painter Gram, disappeared mother who has the family's "wanderer gene," and of course, two very different, attractive boys, and you have an incredible cast of fully realized, fully lovable characters.

These two boys are another compelling aspect of the story: who doesn't love a steamy, confused love triangle? Lennie discovers a solid crying shoulder in Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, whose silent support morphs into something more passionate, while new student and fellow clarinetist Joe breaks into her family's grieving routine with light, laughter, and delicious sludge-heavy coffee. Maybe it's her Gram's renowned roses, legendary in their heady love-inducing fumes, or it's the emptiness on Bailey's side of their room, but Lennie finds herself suddenly boy-crazy, vacillating between lust, depression, and laughter. Her grief is beautifully, heartbreakingly rendered: I found myself reeling along with Lennie as she yearned to run to share something new with Bailey and discovered her loss all over again.

The chapters are interspersed with found poems that Lennie had written on paper coffee cups, homework assignments, tree branches, and so on. I will close this review with one of my favorites, in the hopes that if my own obsession does not make you read this book, this poem will:

At night,
when we were little,
we tented Bailey's covers,
crawled underneath with our flashlights,
and played cards: Hearts,
Whist, Crazy Eights,
and our favorite: Bloody Knuckles.
The competition was vicious.
All day, every day,
we were the Walker Girls -
two peas in a pod
thick as thieves -
but when Gram closed the door
for the night,
we bared our teeth.
We played for chores,
for slave duty,
for truths and dares and money.
We played to be better, brighter,
to be more beautiful,
more, just more.
But it was all a ruse -
we played
so we could fall asleep
in the same bed
without having to ask,
so we could wrap together
like a braid,
so while we slept
our dreams could switch bodies.

No comments: