Have you ever just not wanted to read a book? Maybe it's the timing. It might be the cover or the publicity material or the subject matter, but you can't seem to get past the title page.
I like Young Adult books, generally speaking, but I had read four in a row, actually five now that I think about it. I'd loved one (Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye in Robot), halfway through I had put one aside to read later (Will Grayson, Will Grayson), I had reviewed one for publication and was zipping through another, a lighter fare for sure.
But this one was about a sister who had died, so even though the publicist who sent it to me and a member of my critique group whose judgment I trust both seemed to think it was going to be a hit, still I resisted. I just wasn't in the mood for a death book about a talented musician and a new boy in town. I couldn't seem to pick it up and read a single page.
Then I did.
Wow. This is without a shade of doubt one of the most beautifully-written novels I've read all spring, bar none. And to think of it as about death just doesn't do the story justice.
I love the way the story unfolds, the poems 17-year-old Lennie leaves on to-go cups, scrawls on tree branches, the backs of flyers--as tributes to her older sister Bailey. Bailey's death is handled tastefully, thoughtfully, almost off-screen as it were. It's what happens to the people who still love her that make the story so touching.
The true love story that's underneath the sad one is possibly the most realistic portrayal of young love I've read in a while. OK, maybe I don't read a ton of YA love stories, but I just sense this one is going to resonate with readers, girls and boys, their parents- anybody who picks up this book and finds themselves unable to put it back down.
Actually, there are many levels of love going on in The Sky is Everywhere. Lennie's grandmother surely must rate as the most intriguing, patient, understanding, interesting grandparent to grace a young readers' book in a while. She totally gets her granddaughter in a way that all inter-generational families wish they could, yet she knows how to let Lennie find her own way. Plus she's just one fascinating lady- an artist, a rose grower, a taker-in of lost and confused souls. And then there's the uncle who completes the family threesome, another multi-dimensional character if ever there was one.
But truly, in this book, it's all about the writing. Like this passage, when Lennie finally goes to the attic where she's packed up her sister's things:
I haven't been up here in years. I don't like the tombishness, the burned smell of the trapped heat, the lack of air. It always seems so sad too, full of everything abandoned and forgotten...This is what I've been avoiding for months now. I take a deep breath, look around. There's only one window, so I decide, despite the fact that the area around it is packed in with boxes and mountains of bric-a-brac, that Bailey's things should go where the sun will at least seep in each day.
Yes, there's teenage angst, a moment or two of sex, an uncle's pot smoking and growing, and a pretty funny night of drinking expensive French wine--normal teen behavior that's not really condoned or criticized by anybody other than the characters it affects most.
At heart this story is tender and--to use an old-fashioned word you don't often hear describing Young Adult novels anymore- even heartfelt.
So now when I receive a book from a publisher that claims it's an "extraordinary debut novel that celebrates love while offering a heartbreakingly articulate portrait of grief," I'll read over grief and focus on the celebrates love part if I'm in a place where reading one more book about a sibling's death isn't what I'm looking for at that moment.
I'm glad I eventually picked this one up. Because once opened, I couldn't put it down.