I was initially drawn to this book by its amazing packaging - the eye-catching cover, the blue font, the beautiful illustrations of the poems inside. As I stood there drooling over it in Waterstones I remember thinking two things: firstly that the author Jandy Nelson must feel so happy and proud to see her work so lovingly reproduced, and secondly I hoped that the writing itself was just as beautiful. I wasn't disappointed. From the very first page I saw exactly why publishers Walker had decided to invest so much in this novel. It is incredible.
The Sky is Everywhere tells the story of Lennie Walker, a Heathcliff obsessed teenage girl who is mourning the sudden and unexpected death of her beloved big sister. And yet it is not the misery-fest that so many YA titles concerned with death tend to be. Somehow, in the midst of all the heart-breaking pain of loss, Nelson has created a book that is actually a celebration of life and love and hope, and all that it means to be human.
The writing is exquisite. The kind that you want to savour. After I got half way through I actually started to read more slowly and ration the chapters - that's how badly I didn't want it to end!
And the characters are so interesting and quirky they make you wish you were a part of their world. From the gardener extraordinaire Gram, to the pot smoking uncle who is addicted to getting married, and the wise-cracking best friend, they are a masterclass in characterisation. And as for Lennie herself, from the blurb on the back of the book you initially wonder whether you'll be able to sympathise with her:
"What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her (dead) sister's boyfriend the previous night? Speaking of which, what kind of girl makes out with her sister's boyfriend, at all?"
Indeed! But Nelson captures the raw intensity of Lennie's grief so brilliantly that I completely understood why she acted as she did. And I loved the way that as she worked through her grief she was able to step out from the shadow of her older sister and finally discover who she was in her own right.
And of course, no self-respecting YA title would be complete without some kind of love interest. In The Sky is Everywhere Jandy Nelson perfectly captures that heady, magical descent into 'zombie-ville' as Lennie falls for romantic muso, Joe Fontaine. I defy you not to fall for him too! Once again Nelson's characterisation is spot on, creating a complex and interesting (as well as drop dead gorgeous) love interest. And Lennie's developing love for Joe is a great reminder that even in the depths of despair we can find a ray of hope.
I read this book after a period of loss in my own life and I have to say that although it made me cry, it also left me with a new-born thirst and appreciation for life.
Poetic and life affirming, I thoroughly recommend it.