Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010: Kids' Maximum Shelf: The Sky Is Everywhere

Point of View Books from Penguin Young Readers

Philomel Books: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Dial Books for Young Readers: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Penguin Young Readers: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Penguin Young Readers: Titles by Jacqueline Woodson available now with an all-new look

Editors' Note

Maximum Shelf: The Sky Is Everywhere

With this issue, Shelf Awareness is publishing its fourth Maximum Shelf, a monthly feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere. This edition focuses on our first children's/young adult title, The Sky Is Everywhere, a debut YA novel by Jandy Nelson, which Dial Books for Young Readers is publishing on March 9. The review and interview are by Jennifer M. Brown. Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, has helped support the issue.


Penguin Young Readers: The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer

Books & Authors

Young Adult Book Review: The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Dial/Penguin, $17.99, 9780803734951/0803734956, 288pp., ages 14-up, March 9, 2010)

Debut novelist Jandy Nelson possesses a rare gift for language and a finely tuned ear--two characteristics that gracefully combine in her 17-year-old heroine, Lennie, who writes poems to her sister and, when unleashed, plays a mean clarinet. From the opening paragraph, the author brilliantly navigates Lennie's course between despair and hope, sorrow and humor, after the death of the her 19-year-old sister: "Gram is worried about me. 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. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots." Gram is a Garden Guru, whose roses are known to cause "mad love to flourish." This particular houseplant, Gram believes, "reflects [Lennie's] emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being." But this time, Gram fears she may not know the cure.
When Lennie cannot find words to express her grief, she reaches for metaphor, the language of poetry: "It's as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way." And when she needs to connect with Bailey, who died suddenly from a fatal arrhythmia, Lennie writes poems. She scribbles one on a to-go cup that she drops on the banks of the Rain River, and another on a scrap she leaves under a bench outside Maria's Deli: "In photographs of us together,/ she is always looking at the camera,/ and I am always looking at her." As a published poet, Jandy Nelson moves fluidly from poetic prose to the poems that Lennie writes to Bailey, which appear in nearly every chapter. They work in tandem to reveal the bottomless well of love that accompanies Lennie's grief.
Lennie basked in what she calls Bailey's "wattage." They shared everything--a bedroom and secrets, and their dreams for the future. In their town, the sisters were famous for "road-reading." One day, while Lennie walked along immersed in her copy of Wuthering Heights, and Bailey with her Like Water for Chocolate, a young man rode up on horseback, and took Bailey's breath away. His name was Toby. The only time Lennie felt left out was when Bailey and Toby were together. Now the only one who seems to understand Lennie is Toby. Her sexual stirrings when they are together feel taboo, but they are mutual. And electric. The author makes clear the connection between them when they kiss: "In that moment I feel like Toby and I together have, somehow, in some way, reached across time, and pulled Bailey back."
Meanwhile, Lennie is shutting out everyone else who's ever been close to her: Gram and Uncle Big, and her best friend, Sarah, who'd "be the perfect cheerleader if she weren't so disgusted by the notion of school spirit." Lennie has stopped her private clarinet lessons, and eats lunch alone in the treetops at school. But she finds a welcome (and persistent) companion in Joe Fontaine--the gorgeous classmate who arrived at school during Lennie's month-long absence and who seems to excel at every musical instrument. Lennie tells herself, "He only thinks I'm pretty, only thinks I'm amazing, because he never met Bailey." Joe is a fresh start: "I look into his sorrowless eyes and a door in my heart blows open. And when we kiss, I see that on the other side of that door is sky." But Joe challenges Lennie, too. He observes her on clarinet and tells her she has "loads of technique… but it's like it all stops there…. It's like you're sleep-playing or something." His observation hits on a thorny truth, which recurs in a subtheme like a haunting refrain.
Jandy Nelson constructs a suspenseful and gripping love triangle with two memorable suitors who expose the entangled joy and pain at the root of the heroine's decision: Will Lennie embrace Toby and the past, or will she pursue with Joe the possibility of a future filled with music and a spotlight of her own? Jandy Nelson never lets the romance turn saccharine, cutting through with a dose of humor at just the right moment ("Bailey's exasperation at my disinterest in boys was as perpetual as my exasperation at her preoccupation with them"). All of the living, breathing characters in Lennie's circle spring from the pages, and the author allows readers to see their sorrow even when Lennie is blind to it. As Lennie begins to discover new things about Bailey, herself, and those around her, readers will be rooting for her to embrace life, and to know that this is what everyone--including Bailey--would wish for her.

Penguin Young Readers: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Jandy Nelson: The Transformational Power of Love, Poetry and Music

What was the seed for The Sky Is Everywhere?

Lennie crashed into my psyche and came fully formed, with her copy of Wuthering Heights and her clarinet in her hand. It was like she crashed through the roof. I knew that her sister had died, and I knew the triangle was there, with Joe and Toby. I saw it as a movie in a way. The first thing that came was the girl scattering the poems everywhere and I knew she was grief-stricken. In the inception was California. I invented this river town, though I felt like I know the area where it was, with the redwood forest, and this rushing river was part of the emotional landscape of the story.

I started with the poems, because I'd never written fiction before. I first thought it would be a verse novel, but I knew within a month that I had to tell this in prose. The only thing keeping me from writing fiction was my fear of writing fiction.
The way that you write about grief suggests that you have experienced it yourself.

One of the reasons I wanted to write the story was I lost someone very close to me very suddenly, and I was blown away by the experience of grief and how transformational it is. It's a cataclysmic event but it takes you to the beating heart of the world and the preciousness of life. Loss can be so huge and almost geological--at one point Lennie talks about "tectonic plates shifting."
But I also think it's the sort of emotional journey that can make you live in a more hopeful way. Not that you get over it or even come out the other side. But that idea that grief and love are conjoined brings you to a place of peace--for me it does. Grief is a measure of how much we love and how much we can love in the future.
Is that why Toby and Joe both have such a strong pull for Lennie?

With Lennie I felt, just imagine at that age, experiencing such loss. I wanted to write about the transformational power of grief but also write it as a love story. She'd work through it through these boys, even though it was her own journey. Grief and love are the most powerful emotions we have. Lennie got hit with both.
Do you think many younger siblings blossom when they step out of the shadow of their older siblings?

I think it can go a million different ways. I do think, had Bailey lived, Lennie would have still gone through this process. It might have taken a little longer, but I think she still would have become who she is. I think Lennie feels guilty about this, too, that nothing good should come of [Bailey's death]. The music became the necessary outlet for her grief. It became a way to communicate with Bailey, too. I think she would have gone back to her music anyway.
Your descriptions of playing music and listening are so evocative. Are you a musician yourself?

I love music, but I'm not a musician. When I was a little older than Lennie, I fell in love with a musician, so I had a sense of what that was like. I think in some ways I replaced her experience of music with my experience of writing. That line that the band teacher says--"You guys think you're musicians? You have to stick your asses in the wind!"--that's a line from our writing and poetry professor at Cornell, "You guys think you're poets? You have to stick your asses in the wind."
Have you ever left poems around town for others to discover?

Not really, not for someone to find, but when my friend died, I did write her a few poems and toss them into the ocean--there being nowhere else to send them. That impulse, wanting so badly to communicate with someone who's no longer here, definitely set the idea for Lennie and the poems rolling in my head. So it's that for Lennie, but something more, too. I think it's a way to write her grief on the world, mark it, make sure her story and her sister's is out there. It's a way for her to counteract the terrible silence inside her.


Getting Sky Everywhere

Part of the challenge with a debut novel is spreading the word about a terrific new author. Penguin Young Readers Group began an early buzz campaign for The Sky Is Everywhere in July 2009 with its sales reps' reviews and the first two chapters of the book. The publisher followed up in September and October by distributing hundreds of galleys at the regional trade shows and with dinners to introduce booksellers to author Jandy Nelson in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City and Detroit/Ann Arbor. The book also received major promotion at school and library conferences.
To help with sell-through, Penguin has created a nine-copy floor display (9780803735194), and all the makings for a "Plant-a-Poem" movement.  Penguin will supply materials to booksellers to encourage their customers to "plant" a poem in the store (just the way Lennie left poems all over her California town of Clover).
In addition, the publisher will offer support through a dedicated consumer website, a book trailer and author video, a national print and radio media campaign, and extensive online advertising on, the Hearst network, and To request a copy for review in the media, contact

Book Brahmin: Jandy Nelson

On your nightstand now:

Two particularly teetering towers at the moment just waiting for me to take to my bed like a good Victorian: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, Bloodroot by Amy Greene, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin, Punkzilla by Adam Rapp, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Living Fiction by Annie Dillard. And for research and inspiration for my new novel: Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites by Norton and Lawrence, The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens by Malina Saval, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult Sciences of the World Vol. 1 & 2, edited by Cora Linn Daniels, Sculpture from Antiquity to Present Day (Taschen), A Life of Picasso: The Early Years by John Richardson, Chagall by Jackie Wullschlager, August Rodin by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Favorite book when you were a child:

My mother was so obsessed with Madeline that reading anything else was a subversive and clandestine act, even my most beloved: Harold and the Purple Crayon. When older, I went mad for Judy Blume, and then D.H. Lawrence--I was just consumed with his books as a teenager--all that dark roiling passion.
Your top five authors:

How about six? I can't eliminate any one of these! Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, William Steig, Zora Neale Hurston, Anne Carson.
Book you've faked reading:

I can't believe I'm admitting this: The Sound and the Fury! Never read it. Oh, the shame.

Book you are an evangelist for:

I'm pretty evangelical about all the many books I love. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech was really my entryway into contemporary children's literature and it blew me away. I couldn't shut up about it. Same with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson is just so exquisite. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, too. Recently I'm gung-ho for Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks. And always, One Hundred Years of Solitude because it's my favorite of all, hands down.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Most recently, Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch. Gorgeous cover--I'd like to live in it.

Book that changed your life:

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf changed absolutely everything: how I read, how I thought and perceived, how I reveled in language; it was an instant psychic overhaul!

Favorite line from a book:

"the thing perhaps is to eat flowers and not to be afraid"--e.e. cummings
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. What a joy that would be!

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