Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Walker Books Australia has kindly provided us with four copies of The Sky is Everywhere to give away to our readers. Click here to see how you can enter to win a copy.

the sky is everywhere jandy nelson Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Despite being named after John Lennon, Lennie Walker feels more like that fourth Beatle that no one ever seems to be able to name. She has always played a supporting role in her own life, propping up the more vibrant, lively actors around her: her earth-mother grandmother, who has raised her since she was little; her'Lothario'uncle, a man addicted to weddings and obsessed with the regenerative power of pyramids; her Sartre-quoting, chain-smoking best friend. Then theres her vivacious, book-loving sister Bailey, whose wild, ethereal looks and unselfconscious manner have always drawn the spotlight of their sisterhood. At least, they did until Baileys sudden death, at which point Lennie, despite having resigned herself to being the staid companion pony to the flighty Thoroughbreds all around her, is forced to take a central role in her own life.

Lennie is lost without the guiding force of her sister, unsure of who she is, where she belongs, and worse, unable to believe that she is deserving of anything good. Lennie mourns less for Bailey than she does the other losses that come as a consequence of her sisters death: the loss of her identity as a sister, as one half of a relationship that can never again in her lifetime be recreateda fact underscored by Lennies mothers disappearance many years ago. There is a gap inside Lennie, something dark and hollow that she is unsure how to fill, perhaps unwilling to fill as, after all, doing so would mean that she has moved on, that she doesnt care. That she is no longer the person she has spent her life being. Lennie is tormented by the emotions and passions that try seemingly without motive or explanation to fill this void, but is unable to assess them, simply characterising them instead as'wrong. Lennies self-loathing manifests initially as apathy, withdrawal, but soon intertwines with more complex emotions until she finds herself seeking refuge in the arms of her sisters fiance, who like Lennie is the one remaining half of a unique relationship.

But the arrival of Joe Coltraine is the catalyst Lennie needs to steer her away from this dangerous precipice. Joe is the balance for the emotions that Lennie is feeling: his joy to her grief, his verve to her apathy, his humour to her solemnity. Convinced of Lennies gift as a musician, Joe seeks to use music to draw Lennie out from herself, as a form of catharsis not only to help her to heal, but to see that she has always been one of the Thoroughbreds to whom she has always compared herself. But Lennie is unwilling, or perhaps unable, to accept his help, and her words to the contrary are belied by her actions, which betray not only Joe, but Lennie herself and all that she holds dear. Its clear that the catharsis Joe is attempting to facilitate is going to be a drawn-out, painful process, but whats not clear is how long Joe will be able to hold his own against Lennies self-destructive behaviour.

The Sky is Everywhere is, like Julia Hobans excellent novel Scarred (see our review) is not so much about death as it is about the growth that such a precipitative event can prompt. Without Bailey by her side, Lennie is no longer able to hide in the very long shadows cast by her lively and popular sister, but just how else she is to behave instead is unfathomable to her. However, Joes appearance in her life gives Lennie the fodder she needs to fight for something that may well otherwise be irrevocably lost, and its perhaps her fear at experiencing this loss again that propels her to begin making choices that require her to step forward and accept that she, like everyone else, is worthy of achievement, of success. Lennies internal conflict, however, has a long history, beginning with her mothers abandonment at a young age, something she and Bailey had over the years spent many nights circuitously dissecting and analysing, and its no surprise that she continues to struggle with issues of self-worth well into her teens (and likely beyond). As a result, she struggles to make the transition into the new life she knows that she should be able to attain: her uncomfortable relationship with Baileys finance Toby, for example, is an effort to return to the safe life she knew before her sisters death, but is simultaneously an act of self-flagellation, a way of reinforcing her self-loathing.

Nelson, however, never judges Lennie for the way she is torn between these two men, one representative of a past that is no longer, and one representative of a future that is joyful but uncertain. Lennie, rendered with exquisite complexity, and a good deal of sympathy, by Nelson, is allowed to struggle through her ambivalence towards some degree of self-acceptance and self-awareness in a way that is deeply moving. I did feel, however, that the relationship between Lennie and Joe was overwhelming in its no-holds-barred intensity, to the point of disbelief: it seemed to build from a quick glance during orchestra performance to exhortations of love within what seemed like mere moments. Given the otherwise measured approach taken to Lennies growth as a character, this relationship felt oddly unbalanced, and at times seemed more destructive than positive for either party. Its curious, though, that Tobys part in what becomes a rather painful love triangle isnt given more weight, and that Toby himself plays a vanishingly small role in the book despite the challenge he represents for Lennie as a sort of phantom of the past'and no doubt the same is true for him when it comes to Lennie, but this is never really explored.

In my mind, the books credibility wavers a little under an endless barrage of kookiness. Every character in this book seems to be a collection of strange quirks, sayings, habits, and extensive reading lists (mostly involving florid French philosophers that most teens would avoid like the plague), and some fail to become much more than this, which is a shame. Gram is one character who I felt could have been more attention beyond her various zany attributes, as the way in which she has conducted herself in relation to her granddaughters and their absent mother over the years is truly moving and at points is quite challenging. Grams peripheral role is in part due to Lennies introspective, shut-off ways'Lennie fails to ever acknowledge her grandmothers own grief at having lost not only her daughter, but someone who was like a daughter to her'but I cant help but feel that fleshing out this relationship might have resulted in a more balanced read that didnt lean quite so heavily on the notion of the redemptive, illuminating power of love.

A further challenge for me in reading this book was at the prose level, as I felt that there was an unevenness to the writing that kept me from becoming entirely engaged with the narrative. At times, Nelsons prose is truly transcendent, and its a pleasure to read. But these moments of astonishing lucidity and incisiveness are so often destroyed by the invasion of Valleygirl speak that one almost becomes wary of them after a while. Despite these issues, though, as a study of grief and identity, The Sky is Everywhere is highly successful. It is a subtle and complex novel, often elucidating through allusion or parallel rather than doing so overtly, which is testament to Nelsons narrative skill.

I cant close this review without mentioning the actual physical reading experience of this book. The edition of The Sky is Everywhere so kindly sent to me by the publishers is a truly exquisite hardcover with coloured endpapers, luminous blue text, and a rich, thick paper stock, and I have to say that its probably the most beautiful book thats crossed my path this year. The binding used for the book gives it a diary-like feel, which is augmented by the beautifully illustrated pages used display Lennies poetry and musings. While a lot of love has clearly gone into the writing of this novel, a lot of love has also gone into its production.

Rating: star Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelsonstar Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelsonstar Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelsonhalfstar Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelsonblankstar Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

With thanks to Walker Books Australia for the review copy.

Purchase The Sky is Everywhere


  1. RT @readinasitting Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson on grief, love, and self-acceptance #YA #Bookstoread

  2. Have you read Jenny Downhams excellent Before I Die? There is a bit about it and her latest on my blog, plus a link to a review by the Guardian.

    • Stephanie /

      Hi Paula,

      Thanks so much for stopping by. Ive heard incredible things about Before I Die, and its one I really should check out. Thanks for the reminder! :)


  3. Finished this over the weekend. Absolutely loved it. Thanks for running such great comps stephanie and I hope theres much more to come.

    • Stephanie /

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks so much for popping by! Im glad you enjoyed the bookits a great read :) Ill hopefully be running some more competitions in coming weeks, so keep an eye out!


  4. Great review! I totally agree with the kookiness of the characters. I felt a bit confused more than once because of all the odd traits each possessed. Overall though, I did enjoy the novel, it was a cute yet interesting YA read.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Samantha! I was pleased to see that this one had a healthy relationship between the protagonist and her love interest, which was a major plus for me. A lot of recent YA seems to fall down in this area.

      I think one of the problems with the kookiness was that it made a few of the characters ring false. The protagonists best friend, for example, just felt so much older than she was due to the way she spoke and the literature she was always quoting.

      In all, though, its a very satisfying read!