The sky is everywhere by Jandy Nelson
May 20, 2010
(Walker Books; ISBN 978 1 4063 2630 7)
Who is for? The publishers say 12-15 year olds, but some of the content may make it more suitable for 15-16 year olds if being used as a class reading book
What’s it about? After the sudden death of Bailey her older sister, seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker is left struggling with her grief. She refuses to pack up her sister’s belongings and spends many hours alone and writing poems about Bailey, poems which she leaves scattered around her home town. In the midst of her grief, Lennie is smitten by good-looking new boy, Joe Fontaine. Their developing relationship is complicated by Lennie’s seemingly inexplicable attraction to her dead sister’s boyfriend, Toby – an attraction that seems to be returned. Along the way, Lennie makes some moving discoveries about her absent mother and Bailey.
Is it any good? It’s hard to summarise the story without it making it sound somewhat sordid or silly. In fact, with a few minor reservations, this is one of the best and most moving teen books I’ve read in quite a while. For a start, it’s physically pleasing to read: the flexiback cover with blue elastic gives it the feel of a journal; the inside font is blue; and there are colour plates and poems throughout the book. More than that, it is well written. Although a first person narrative from the point of view of Lennie, the language is a nice balance of authentic-sounding colloquial teen and more poetic passages with some lovely use of imagery, including metaphor and simile. Like Shark Girl reviewed previously, this is a novel with a hopeful and realistic, but not overbearingly positive ending. My reservations? While the book is generally nicely paced, there are a couple of chapters where the love-triangle sub-plot becomes a tad annoying. However, more aggravating is the character of Joe – he’s just too damned good to be true. Okay, I don’t want to deny anyone the right to fantasise a bit, but how high are we setting expectations when the perfect guy is not only a gifted musician and is stunningly handsome, but his father makes guitars, he has two equally good looking brothers, and he’s French! Pleeaase, give us a break. Finally, there is some coarse language used in the book and Lennie’s sexual awakening is dealt with fairly frankly (e.g. there’s talk about boys’ boners), although this is done with sensitivity. Teachers should certainly preview the novel carefully.
What can I do with it? The sky is everywhere would be a welcome addition to units exploring the way teenagers are represented or for issues-based units (e.g. relationships education or dealing with grief). Like many books reviewed on this blog, extracts could be used as models of effective, literary writing. This is also an interesting example of an author (and publisher) pushing the bounds of the book with its use of multimodality. Finally, the book includes references to a range of classic literature and, in particular, very interesting use is made of Wuthering Heights. So, the novel could be used as a gentle introduction to the ‘classics’ and a critique of traditional romantic fiction such as and Pride and Prejudice. Overall, this book is highly recommended.