Two weeks ago, I was part of panel discussion at Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA with three other authors of young adult fiction—Jeri Smith-Ready, Kelly Fiore and Justina Ireland. We were there because Jeri was gracious enough to let us “ride her coattails” (as Justina put it) at a signing to celebrate the release of her latest young adult novel, THIS SIDE OF SALVATION. (Another book I wish I’d written).
The moderator at Children’s Book World concluded the discussion with a speed round Q&A session and one of the questions was: “What’s the one book you find yourself recommending more than any other?” When she got to me, without hesitation, I said: “THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.”
Jeri immediately chimed in: “I was going to say that!” Jeri and I have an editor and publisher in common and now, it seems, a favorite book. We high-fived each other and the moderator moved on, but I knew then what book I’d be writing about for this post. More than any other young adult novel, this exquisite book by Jandy Nelson, is always on the tip of my tongue when people ask me for a recommendation.
I read this book in 2010 when it first came out. I remember being on the waitlist at my local library for a while and when I finally read it, I loved it so much I didn’t want to read anything else for a few weeks. I wound up buying my own copy. It’s the kind of book I wanted to own and re-read. It’s the kind of book I wish I had written.
It’s the story of self-proclaimed band geek Lennie—named for John Lennon, by her ex-hippie and now-absent mother—and how she learns to live and love again after her older, more out-going sister, Bailey, dies suddenly while rehearsing a scene from Romeo& Juliet.
This story made me laugh through my tears. I loved how Jandy Nelson explores death and grief in a realistic, heartfelt way that never seems forced or melodramatic, while injecting just the right amount of humor through her cast of quirky characters. I’m not the kind of reader who makes notes in the margins or underlines her favorite parts. But if I were, my copy of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE would have mark-ups on every page.
I started reading my copy again over the weekend to look for passages that would give readers a taste for Jandy Nelson’s beautiful, lyrical prose, and sense of humor. I didn’t have to look past the first paragraph. “Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex.” Lennie’s voice is so clear and present in those opening lines, I befriended her immediately and rooted for her even when her despair caused her to make some questionable choices. There’s a love triangle that includes her sister’s boyfriend, Toby, and the new guy at school with good looks to match his musical talent. I adore the scene when Lenny first meets Joe “with a grin the size of the continental United States.” Lenny says: “Before I know it, I’ve matched his continental U.S. and raised him Puerto Rico and Hawaii. I must look The Merry Mourner.”
The book also includes Lenny’s honest, lovely poetry—scribbled on scraps of paper and found objects—which adds yet another layer to this perfectly crafted story.
If you haven’t yet read THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, read it now. It’s everything the perfect, YA contemp should be. You won’t be disappointed. Plus, you won’t have long to wait for Jandy Nelson’s second novel. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN comes out on Sept. 16, 2014. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.