For the majority of the year I am a seventh grade language arts teacher. Last Friday, my cohort of young minds spent their last day in seventh grade and embarked on the much anticipated summer vacation. While I will continue to teach throughout the summer as an online summer school teacher, I wanted to create a space to document my journey of discovery as I explore new pieces of literature. I’m excited to see what new worlds I will travel to and new friends I will meet along the way. So without further ado, here is the first of many books I will read and then review this summer.
Seventeen year old Lennie Walker’s life is shattered with the sudden death of her beloved sister, Bailey. In the months that follow, Lennie is unable to shake away the cloud of grief that hovers over her. The new boy in town, Jon Fontaine, possesses the power to help her forget her pain and sorrow, but Toby, her sister’s boyfriend, helps her keep Bailey alive. Lennie struggles to sort out her identity as she navigates the story of her life. Having spent most of her life on the sidelines while her sister takes center stage, Lennie starts to realize she can no longer be the company pony. She must be the racehorse.
This is my second book this month written by Jandy Nelson. I stumbled upon her other novel I’ll Give You the Sun while out at Barnes and Noble with my husband. I was captivated by her writing style in IGYTS, so I figured I would check out her debut novel The Sky is Everywhere. Like IGYTS, this book takes place in California. The back cover synopsis sets the story up to be about a love triangle, but love is only one part of this story. The love is entangled in grief, loss, and despair. It is a story about finding oneself again after dealing with a life shattering event.
I had very high expectations about TSIE after reading IGYTS, but found that I liked IGYTS much more. However, this is not a review about IGYTS--maybe that can be a discussion for another post. It took me a few chapters to really get into Lennie’s story. I wasn’t able to connect quickly to any of the characters, not because of Nelson’s writing, but because I’ve never experienced a heart wrenching loss before. Nelson’s poetic nature and ability to capture words is what really kept my attention while reading this novel. Each chapter is bookended by Lennie's poems, which creates a diary type story and ultimately reveals the depth of Lennie's pain.
You can't help but fall in love with her Uncle Big and surrogate mother Gram. Big, with his unconventional bug pyramids and pot smoking habits, serves as a light in the post-Bailey Walker household. He is a critical character on Lennie's path through grief as he shares words of wisdom and reminds Lennie of her dreams.
Gram, with her green thumb, artist skills, and self-sacrificing nature, serves as the mother figure. Lennie's mother left when she was a year old due to what the family calls the "restless gene" and Gram's been taking care of her ever since. Gram put the needs of her own family above her own pain and sorrow.
These Walkers keep their pain to themselves, and Uncle Big and Gram are no exception. Big smokes his pain away while Gram saves her crying for the shower because she thinks no one can hear her.
Many pages in the book were dogeared because I was struck by the beauty of Nelson's words. There are several memorable lines from this novel, but the one that stood out the most and continued to resonate with me long after I closed the back cover was, "Each time someone dies, a library burns."
I never thought of life in this way, but it's true. Each of us are our own libraries. We hold all of the wisdom and knowledge and creativity and wonder inside us. And there isn't anyway to save the books that live within our brain.
Nelson does a beautiful job of tying together the themes of wanderlust, identity, betrayal, and abandonment in her emotional debut novel. Readers will laugh out loud and cry alongside Lennie as they travel through her emotional roller coaster of grief.
To catch a glimpse at memorable lines from this story, check out the designs below. I know I keep saying it--but Nelson has a way with words that truly speak to you. Pick up one of her novels today and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.