Monday, June 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Jandy Nelson

Title: The Sky Is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Dial
Publication date: March 9, 2010
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Dear Jandy Nelson,

When I started reading your book a few weeks ago, I was a little bit… skeptical. I couldn't really get into the story for the first 70-some-odd pages. I just don't care for books about grief. I don't like reading about people feeling helpless. Or hopeless. Or guilty for things that are out of their control. It makes me want to yell at them, "SNAP OUT OF IT! DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO BE ALIVE!" (Sometimes I can be insensitive like that.)

For the record, I also don't do well with love triangles. Leading people on is for the birds; we are responsible for our choices; etc. I guess the Joe/Toby thing was a necessary evil. A way to help Lennie come into her own and learn some important things about herself.

But still. I hate love triangles. Hate 'em. Why can't we all just be open and honest with each other? If we're not sure, we'll say we're not sure. If we know we're being idiots but we don't know why we're being idiots, we'll say that too. Maybe people would be much more tolerant and forgiving if we extended that level of courtesy to one another. Or maybe I'm a naive anomaly who thinks honesty is a greater virtue than it really is. It's possible.

There were times throughout the book when I would read something you wrote and be like, "Ugh NOOOO. Please don't let this sentence turn into the literary cliché that I think it's about to turn into…" and yes, sometimes the sentence would turn into that cliché. But you would still be three steps ahead and somehow lessen the clichéness of the cliché. Like when Joe told Lennie about being cheated on in France. I thought to myself, "Joe is obvi going to walk in on Toby/Lennie going at it," because that's what always happens in books and on TV, and it's what we – or at least I – have come to expect as media consumers. But two sentences later, Lennie is expressing almost the same thought as I did, as if she knows just how typical an ending like that might be.

Does all that even make sense? Maybe not. I guess I am just reveling in the synchronicity and the fact that it feels like you were giving me some credit as a reader. It was much appreciated whether or not it was purposeful.

Anyway. Moving on... The poems were brilliant. I've read (and written) my fair share of cringeworthy poetry, but Lennie's writing was different. Heavy and light and sophisticated and current and romantic and Victorian and desperate and crazy and strong. All of those things came through in Lennie's voice. And all the scraps throughout the book – and their captions – make so much more sense now that I've read through to the end. It feels cohesive, like an a-ha moment as I thumb through all the pages and see the candy wrappers and the cups and the carved-up tree branches.

I was totally wondering if you'd include the last poem in the book. It would have made sense if you had decided to leave it out. For starters, a poem with the power of reconciliation? I mean, that just borders on black magic. Second, what if it was a terrible poem? My last thought reading your book could have been, "Wow. That was truly dildonic." But again – and here's what I meant above – you were three steps ahead and the poem was right and perfect and it's like you had thought through all these things and thought about it from the perspective of both a writer and a reader and you gave us something that worked and worked beautifully.

So I just have to say: You're an awesome writer and I completely respect and admire your artistry. Writing is a craft, and The Sky Is Everywhere was a really clear reminder of that.

Thanks for a thought-provoking reading experience.

My very best,

P.S. I made it through graduated from Cornell too, so we are basically soul sisters! Kind of. Not really.

P.P.S. I was also initially convinced you were an Aussie writer. I have this theory that there is something in the water that turns all Aussie writers into super-writers. Like Melina Marchetta and Vikki Wakefield and Lucy Christopher. But you're not Aussie. (You're still a super-writer though.)

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