Loss, Love Triangles and Lennie: ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson

As much as I like to pretend I know everything there is to know about young adult literature, there are still tons of books I haven’t read. Sure, I may think of myself as the YA goddess of HelloGiggles (I don’t think of myself that way), but every once in awhile a lovely reader will recommend a book I’ve never even heard of. That’s exactly what happened when Reyna emailed me after reading my column on the 10 Most Crushable Guys in YA. Reyna said she assumed I hadn’t read The Sky Is Everywhere, because if I had, I would have definitely included it on my list.

As soon as I read that email, I got my grubby little paws on The Sky Is Everywhere, devoured it, teared up and totally fell in love with Joe Fontaine. And just like Reyna shared it with me, I’m here to tell all of you guys to go get this book right now. I mean, when you’re done with the column. You can totally read the next few paragraphs, but then you have to promise me you’re going to go pick up a copy, okay?

Lennie Walker is 17 (sidenote: can I mention that I love female characters with boy names? As someone who spells her name the “guy” way, I appreciate this detail) when her sister Bailey dies suddenly. Lennie’s left with her grandmother, her uncle Big, and a huge hole where Bailey used to be. Bailey was the star of the family (she died while rehearsing Romeo and Juliet), and her absence leaves Lennie both terribly alone and uncomfortably center stage for the first time in her life.

Lennie also starts falling for new-kid-in-school Joe Fontaine. Joe Fontaine is one for the books, you guys. If I ever write part 2 of the Most Crushable Guys in YA list (clearly, I’m doing the Lord’s work here), he is going to be all over it. You know how a lot of the swoonworthy dudes in YA are Jess Mariano types? Witty, sarcastic, unreliable, moody bad boys? Joe Fontaine is the opposite of that. He’s half-French, a musical genius and really, really happy. He’s not mean or mysterious and Lennie’s family loves him.

The problem, though, is that there’s another guy in Bailey’s life—that’s right, this is a love triangle. You guys know how I feel about love triangles by now, right? After Bailey dies, Lennie feels like no one understands her—except Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend. Toby and Lennie fall into a sadness-fueled sort-of relationship that makes Lennie feel like she’s closer to Bailey—or at least that someone realizes what she’s going through. But, of course, Lennie can’t keep going back and forth between two guys forever. Will she choose the shared grief of Toby or the thrilling infatuation of Joe?

But The Sky Is Everywhere has a lot more going for it than just a love triangle. Lennie’s choice between Toby and Joe isn’t even about Toby and Joe, really. It’s about Bailey, her sister, the girl who was her constant and who isn’t there anymore. The girl who swore she’d never leave or love anyone more than she loved Lennie. The Sky Is Everywhere shows grief in a realistic way that doesn’t show up in a lot of books, YA or otherwise. This isn’t a Lurlene McDaniel book (no disrespect to Our Lady Lurlene, of course). Lennie is heartbroken and sick with sadness, but her life is still happening. She’s still interested in boys and sex, even as she worries it might be terrible to think about them with her sister so recently gone. She avoids moving anything in Bailey’s half of the room so she’ll still feel close to her, but she won’t visit Bailey’s grave because she can’t think about her being dead. She handles death the way real people do, not the way characters in a book do. And while the romantic plotlines are great, it’s the portrayal of Lennie’s sadness that makes me truly love this book.

Some Highlights: -Usually, this is where I’d tell you about the author’s other books, but Jandy Nelson hasn’t published any other books yet. Please, Jandy Nelson, take pity on us/me and give us some more books.

-One of the hallmarks of YA books is that they deal with the embarrassments of being a teenage girl. Someone is always worrying about their period or having some sort of makeout-related mishap. One of the things I liked about The Sky Is Everywhere is that it featured equal-opportunity embarrassment. By which I mean, the male characters were frequently trying to hide erections, and the word “boner” was used on multiple occasions. And you can call me immature if you want, but the word “boner” is pretty much always comedy gold (if you don’t believe me, just watch this Susan Sarandon scene from Elizabethtown).

The Sky Is Everywhere features some great characters, like Lennie’s uncle Big, a mustachioed lothario who’s been married 4 times, and her grandma, who manages to be a quirky old lady without being a rapping grandma or some sort of other awful “weird old person” cliche.

– This book is only $8.99 on Amazon. That is so cheap! That is less than the price of lots of things that cost ten dollars (should I have made some sort of specific reference there? Maybe. Don’t judge me). Buy yourself a Christmas present. You deserve it! Probably! I don’t know you, so I can’t say for sure, but I feel like I know you and I’m pretty sure you deserve to spend $8.99 on a book for yourself.

What about you? Have you read The Sky Is Everywhere, and did you love it as much as I did? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, find me on Twitter @KerryAnn or email me at [email protected].

Book Cover Image via Speak / Penguin Publishers USA.