Grief is such an all-consuming experience. When grief strikes, the ground shifts like an earthquake, and then the tremors continue for days, weeks, months, often when we least expect them. It’s hard to see or hear anyone or anything else. Jandy Nelson captures that experience so beautifully in The Sky Is Everywhere when Lennie says, “It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.” When her sister, Bailey, dies, Lennie looks for ways to feel intense alternative emotions, like getting involved with her sister’s boyfriend, and then creating a love triangle with Joe Fontaine—and shutting out everyone else. And then there’s that feeling of, why do I deserve to make a life when my sister’s has ended?
All of us who have lost someone close to us know that the intensity of the feelings may lessen with time, but the feeling of loss never really goes away. We just learn how to carry that person with us. Lennie does it through her poems to her sister, set adrift in the river or aloft on a breeze. We find ways to honor their spirit, the music they loved, the dreams they dreamed. The tension in The Sky Is Everywhere resides in the question of whether or not Lennie will allow herself to pursue the music she herself loves and her own dreams.
When my mother died, a friend who had also lost her mother told me, “It’s like living underwater.” And it was. It felt like everything was happening at a remove. I could see that the world was still spinning and that life was going on around me, but I felt separated from all of it. Gradually, I surfaced again, but it took time, and everything was different when I did. In The Sky Is Everywhere, we watch Lennie during her underwater period—loving and laughing but at a remove, seemingly unaware of the consequences of her actions. And then we see her come to the surface. It’s how she gets there that makes Lennie’s story such a moving and healing experience.