Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sky is Everywhere

I finished The Sky is Everywhere the same day I started it. I stayed up late Monday night finishing Mockingbird and read The Sky is Everywhere all of Tuesday, all 275 pages of it. I cried a lot, and I laughed more than I might have expected to laugh, but mostly I nodded. Jandy Nelson knows from grief.

You find out on the first page, in the second sentence, that the narrator of this novel has lost her sister. The first sentence is, "Gram is worried about me." The second sentence is, "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." So you can tell how this book is about grief, but it's also about more than that. Even if you didn't feel like reading a book about death and loss, you might have a hard time putting this one down.

And life is never all about one thing, as Lennie (the narrator) is learning. You don't just grieve. Life goes on, full of everything it's full of. It's sad and also happy and then when you've lost someone you fill guilty about being happy because she's dead, but you can't help it, you're happy anyway.

Lennie is grieving her sister but she's also falling in love for the first time. Which is not convenient, but when are these things ever convenient?

But Lennie asks her sister's boyfriend, the only person who understands this loss and this grief in a similar way, if he feels more alive since... "I'm afraid to ask this, like I'm revealing something shameful, but I want to know if he feels it too.

"He doesn't hesitate. 'I feel more everything since.'"

And Lennie doesn't say this then, but she observes it later, trying to explain how she feels to Joe: "'Now I'm someone who knows the worst thing can happen at any time.'" She thinks about what she's just said: "...I know now how close death is. How it lurks. And who wants to know that? Who wants to know we are just one carefree breath away from the end?"

He says, "'But if you're someone who knows the worst thing can happen at any time, aren't you also someone who knows the best thing can happen at any time, too?'"

And it isn't coincidence that the guy who says this to her is the guy she's falling in love with, who's falling in love with her.

Which is how it happens. Grief and joy mix up together and that's just how it is. Lennie thinks: "My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy."

And she tells her sister later, "I can't stand that you're going to miss so much."


"I drop on my back, panting and sweating. How will I survive this missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside, their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don't believe time heals. I don't want it to. If I heal, doesn't that mean I've accepted the world without her?"

I'm quoting out the sad parts mostly, the parts that made me cry so hard I had to stop reading. But there is so much to this book. And it works like grief does: you cry, you grieve, and you learn. It maybe doesn't get easier, but you figure out how to manage it, how to live in it, and weirdly you figure out, maybe for the first time, how to be grateful for how much you have.

It made me miss my dad, remember how that felt at first and compare it with how it feels now. It also made me so grateful for my sister. Some of Lennie's grief is about she isn't a sister anymore, and she's always been a sister. I am so lucky and grateful to be a sister.

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