Title: The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
ISBN: 9780803734951
Pages: 277 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Book, an imprint of Penguin Group Inc., c2010.

“This boy beaming before me, however, seems to glow in a class all his own. He must be from a very friendly part of the Milky Way, I’m thinking as I try to tone down this nutso smile on my face, but instead almost blurt out to Sarah, ‘He looks like Heathcliff,’ because I just realized he does, well, except for the happy smiling part–but then all of a sudden the breath is kicked out of me and I’m shoved onto the cold hard concrete floor of my life now, because I remember I can’t run home after school and tell Bails about a new boy in band.
My sister dies over and over again, all day long.
‘Len?’ Sarah touches my shoulder. ‘You okay?’
I nod, willing away the runaway train of grief barreling straight for me. (8-9)

Seventeen-year-old Lennon “Lennie” Walker has never had to cope with her mother’s absence alone because she had her older sister Bailey to lean on. When Bailey dies unexpectedly however, Lennie struggles to come to terms with her overwhelming grief. She doesn’t think anyone — not her best friend, not her grandmother, and not her Uncle Big — can understand, until she reconnects with equally grief-stricken Toby, who was Bailey’s boyfriend. Lennie is content to wallow in self-pity, except the new boy at school Joe refuses to let her, and continually appears with his ever-present smile and enthusiasm for life. Joe’s attitude begins to rub off on her, but is Lennie willing to give up her grief when it’s the only thing that connects her to her sister?

I was absolutely blown away by this book. If you haven’t read it, you need to, especially fans of If I Stay by Gayle Forman. In fact, one of many endorsements on the back cover is from Gayle Forman, who describes it as “An addictive, romantic, heartbreaking and wise tale of one girl’s epic loss–and equally epic self-discovery. Seriously, stop reading this blurb; start reading this book!”

Lennie, and all the characters really, come alive in this story. Her grief is palpable and the evocative writing puts the reader in Lennie’s position. There were several times where I just stopped reading to savor the lyrical quality of the writing. After every chapter is a poem written by Lennie, which contribute to the plot and the writing immeasurably. Her relationships with Joe and Toby are intricate and unique, with each catering to Lennie’s conflicting desires to both move on with her life and solidify her sister’s memory.

Joe is almost too perfect in his ability to anticipate Lennie’s many moods and give her what she needs. The connection they have begins with their mutual love of music, but quickly expands due to the easy rapport they have with each other. Every girl wants their equivalent of Joe, their sweep-them-off-their-feet love at first sight, and you’re envious of Lennie that she finds hers so easily and effortlessly.

Lennie gets extremely lucky with the other people in her life. Sarah, her best friend for ages, tries really hard to understand what Lennie is going through. She knows when Lennie needs some space and doesn’t push the issue, but she also isn’t afraid to voice her opinion when she doesn’t agree with Lennie’s decisions. Uncle Big and Grannie are sympathetic, and also try to give her as much space as possible, but they are just as clueless as to how to proceed after Bailey’s death. A climatic scene makes it perfectly clear that they are worried they are loosing Lennie when she withdraws into her own grief.

This is a powerful debut novel that I encourage everyone to pick up. VOYA, the review journal for young adult literature that librarians consult, had three reviews from a guy, a woman, and a teen reviewer, and all three of them seemed to be as blown away by this book as I was. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.

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