Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Sky is Everywhere

It has been a music filled week! We saw Widespread Panic at Red Rocks, Jesse Cook at the Boulder Theater, and last night we watched The Planets shoot a music video for You Tube at Immersive Studios in Boulder. As we were watching the technicians work out the video logistics, I began to think about people expressing their emotions through music and in particular a book I just read. In the Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, the main character works through the grief she is feeling over her sister's death through music, poetry and her own sexual awakening.

Lennie, who has always been the "companion pony" to her sister Bailey’s racehorse, is devastated when Bailey suddenly drops dead from a heart arrhythmia. A normally reserved band geek, who has read Wuthering Heights twenty-three times, Lennie is overwhelmed by her grief, which permeates every waking hour. In bits of poetry which Lennie hides under rocks and throws into the wind, she says, "My sister dies over and over again, all day long." Her profound loss awakens unexpected emotions and sexual desire in Lennie. She is utterly confused by a fierce mutual attraction to Bailey's boyfriend, Toby. Their attempts find comfort in each other's arms leave Lennie feeling guilty and ashamed.

Then Joe Fontaine, a brilliant musician who has recently returned from living in France, arrives at school and joins the band. She is amazed at how easily she falls into a relaxed banter with him, but is afraid to feel any happiness. When summer vacation begins, Joe shows up at her house daily with his guitar and breakfast for Lennie and her grandmother and uncle. He helps Lennie regain her love for playing the clarinet, and gently coaxes her to leave her cocoon of grief. When she finally lets go and they fall deeply in love, she again feels guilty because it "doesn't seem right that anything good should come out of Bailey's death." Looming in the background is Toby, whose attentions threaten her relationship with Joe.

The element of this novel that separates it from the chick lit genre is Lennie's poetry. Her missives help the reader connect with the intense pain that Lennie is feeling. She has lived in her sister's shadow her whole life and can't navigate coming out into the sun. She says, "In photographs of us together, she is always looking at the camera and I am always looking at her." Bailey's death forces Lennie to think about her own life and give herself permission to pursue her dreams. Due to the brief scenes of underage drinking and sexual exploration, I would recommend it for the more mature reader.

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