I don’t have a sister, but there are several pairs that I love very dearly and am very close to, including my own fourteen-months-apart daughters. It says something about how special the bond between two sisters is that even as a bystander these relationships have been inspirational and important in my life. So important in fact that reading The Sky Is Everywhere I found my heart breaking a little bit on every page. I never cry at books and yet here I was wiping away tears. Lennie’s devastating loss, the loss of her sister, was one that, even as someone without a sister, I couldn’t help but feel keenly.
Which makes this sound like a harrowing downer of a read, when in fact it couldn’t be more uplifting. The beautiful contradiction at the heart of Lennie’s life is that she is simultaneously experiencing the worst and best moments of her life. While in the depths of grief she finds herself, ironically, coming to life, waking up, seeing the world in vivid technicolour and, most crucially, falling in love for the first time. The reader is thrown into this swirling mass of emotions alongside Lennie and her family, in all its raw joy and beauty.
Because Lennie’s sister Bailey spends the entirety of the book already dead, she could be a shadowy figure and one that remains enigmatic, but she is evoked so beautifully through tiny, subtly woven memories of her that she’s almost as much a character in the book as any other. This ends up making her loss even harder to bear, with Lennie’s little guerilla poems, written on scraps and scattered through the narrative, recalling childhood memories and giving a perfectly executed (and devastating) depth to the sister relationship:
“But it was all a ruse – we played so we could fall asleep in the same bed without having to ask, so we could wrap together like a braid, so while we slept our dreams could switch bodies”
Gah, I was in bits reading that – and that is so rare for me. I blame my love for my daughters mostly (who sneakily co-sleep whenever they can get away with it), and how precious their relationship is to each other and to me. But it’s also that Nelson seems to so elegantly capture, in just a few words, the way the little moments, the ones that seem so insignificant at the time, are actually the true building blocks of the way we love each other.
The way characters are portrayed is so detailed – the minutiae of their appearance, manner, dress, their bedrooms – that for a brief time we are in their world, living it, inhabiting the space along with them. I would think this was why we feel their emotions as keenly as we do but it’s more than that; rather it’s the way Nelson describes things in a way we all experience them but have never actually been able to explain before, almost like she is the translator between us and life, putting into words the things we never could.
I think it’s also the brutal and wonderful honesty that renders this story into such vivid life. While Lennie berates herself for what she sees as her inappropriate response to her devastating grief, we readers are given such a beautiful and detailed insight into her inner turmoil that it seems wholly appropriate and completely understandable, even when her actions fall into the category of (what she considers) unforgivable. Destroyed and uplifted at the same time, surrounded by the heady scent of roses, spooked by the creaking of the giant redwoods, head over heels in love and drowning in the depths of grief – life, in all its glorious contradictory intensity, is just so richly evoked in every line, making this a spellbinding, poignant and achingly beautiful read.