The Sky is Everywhere
Jandy Nelson

Debut Author

(Amazon description): This is a vibrant, deeply romantic and unmissable debut. Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker 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 centre 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, with a nearly magical grin. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But the two can't collide without Lennie's world exploding...

This book has been so well-reviewed, it hardly needs yet one more, however we review books to share how we feel about stories, and so I want to contribute. I’ll say right off the bat that I thought The Sky is Everywhere was an extraordinary debut novel. Any criticisms I have of it are tiny, tiny, tiny.

Theme: It’s true, stories about an older sister or brother who dies, who the younger sibling had idolized, are a staple of Young Adult fiction. The younger sibling not only needs to experience grief in their particular way, but also to learn to emerge as their own person. Lennie’s sexual awakening as a reaction to her sister’s death made this story different for me. The juxtaposition of grief and sexual awakening, particularly with her dead sister's fiance, added a load of guilt to the story. Lennie's rapturous love for Joe added hope and fear and, ultimately, joy to the story.

I did have a small problem with Lennie’s sexual awakening at 17 years old. I kept having to ask or remind myself how old she was. I kept thinking she was acting like a 12-14 year old. In my circle of friends, including me, those hormones were flowing when we were about 12, or in the 7th grade. (Mind you, most of us weren't acting on our impulses, but we were definitely feeling things.)

Characters: The delightfully quirky characters also made this story different from the usual. They seemed more like characters you would find in middle grade fiction, but considering that Lennie was herself so underdeveloped at 17, it worked. She went from being highly romantic and idealizing of her sister, and especially her absent mother, to being someone who could handle learning the truth about the people in her life. Especially, she stopped idealizing her selfish mother, who abandoned her daughters when they were babies, leaving them behind with their grandmother.

I found Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, to be believable, and I found Lennie and Toby’s attraction to each other believable as well. Each was the other’s strong connection to the person they loved, who died.

I didn’t find Joe, the French musician with long eyelashes, and the true love of Lennie’s life, particularly believable. Like almost everyone else in the story, Lennie romanticized him almost to the point of being a caricature. But the ups and downs of their romance added fear and joy and humor and general deliciousness to the reader’s journey. (Although, Joe would never be my type--too seemingly effeminate. In the Twilight series, I don't go for the deathly white, romantic poet Vampire; I like the sexy wolf boy/man.)

Plot: There was definitely some bloat in this story, but it was so brilliant, who cares? I’ve read that some people almost put the book down in the beginning. For me, I almost put it down at the end. It’s not a story where a lot of significant action happens. Mostly, it’s mental action, and coming-to-terms. Except for the kissing.

Writing Style: I read several reviews where the reader thought Jandy Nelson wasn’t a very good writer. For me, it was her writing style that totally blew me away. She is herself a poet, and she made Lennie a poet, which made for a book full of the most wonderful, fresh imagery you could ever imagine. For that reason alone, reading the book was a delectable feast for my heart and mind.


Somewhere over the Rainbow

Friday night, for the first time in six weeks, my hubbie and I didn't have grandkids staying over night with us. We were, frankly, looking forward to a quiet evening to ourselves. Well, sort of quiet. The phone always starts to ring as soon as we sit down to dinner (8:00 pm). We always groan and wait for the caller ID to come up on the TV screen before answering.

We had to answer this call. It was my sister, who doesn’t call often. We’re both too busy with work and our own families to chat often. She said they’d taken our mother to the hospital, and they weren’t sure if she would live through the night.

Though exhausted, I knew I needed to go see her. My husband was exhausted too and, in the middle of spring planting season, it wasn’t a good time to be away.

But he didn’t want me driving across hundreds of empty, agricultural miles alone in the dark, and so we both got in the car and drove across Washington to the Seattle area, where I'm from, and where most of my relatives still live. We arrived at the hospital by 2:30 am. Mom was still alive. When it was clear that Mom was actually improving, we stayed until around noon on Saturday and then drove home.

But Mom has now passed into what they call “comfort care” or “hospice care,” and so I expect that I’ll be going across the state again soon.

I was happy for the chance to say goodbye to her. She’s 86 and has had Alzheimer’s, in my opinion, for 16 years. My family might debate that, but that’s when I first noticed this formerly vibrant, beautiful, outgoing woman’s personality begin to change. The rest of the family might say she didn’t have it until we put her in a Memory Care facility in 2002. But 1996 is when I seriously started to lose my mother. So, I suppose you could say, I've been grieving her loss for a very long time. There have been so many days when I have just missed her so much. Just wished that I could talk to her, and tell her about me, and my family.

She’s had a number of physical problems as well. Last Wednesday, and I’m not sure why, they took her off all meds.

Generally Alzheimer’s patients are so drugged up with anti-anxiety and anti-psychotics that you can’t tell how much of their incoherence is due to the disease, and how much, to the meds that keep them from being wildly afraid of what’s happening to their mind.

Anyway, there was a time on Saturday morning, yesterday, when I was standing by her hospital bed, and she opened her eyes and looked at me. She hasn’t recognized me, or anyone in the family, for years. My sister was standing on the other side of the bed. She asked Mom if she remembered Cathy. Mom’s eyebrows rose, and her eyes opened wide, and while she didn’t exactly smile at me (she’s forgotten how to do that), her face softened. Tears started streaming down my cheeks, and I nodded over and over again, my eyes looking into hers, and hers into mine. "I see you, Mom. And I see you seeing me."  

I don’t know if she genuinely recognized me, of if I just want to believe she did, but it gave me some closure.

About this post, the long and short is that my blogging might become a bit sporadic (again). There will be details to help with, when Mom passes away. Before that, I want to make a commemorative scrapbook of her life to be on display at her funeral service. Regular-sized scrapbooks generally take me about 40 hours to create, and so it looks like that will use up all of my free time over the next two weeks.

It will be a labor of love.

I will read and review and blog when I can, and visit your blogs when I can. I’m currently finishing Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. It’s a wonderful story.

My own story bears a similarity to Jandy Nelson’s. In The Sky is Everywhere, the main character’s sister dies. Her personality had always been completely overshadowed by her sister’s more vibrant one, and it’s the story of getting through her grief, but also becoming a person in her own right.

For many years, it was like that in our family. Mom was movie-star beautiful and popular. In any social situation, she would do all of the talking and laughing and joke-telling, and everyone in our family was happy to be listeners. Because of that, Mom made it so easy for us to be around other people. But it also meant that my sister (who is as drop-dead gorgeous as Mom was), and I grew up with serious social anxiety. It was just too easy to let Mom do all the talking.

In her youth, Mom was often mistaken as Judy Garland. The family—dad, sister, brother and I were always the planets in her sunny (but frequently stormy) orbit. Several years ago, I wrote a piece called, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” which will be read at her funeral, and thus the title of this post.


Saint Iggy: Young Adult Book Review

Saint Iggy
K. Going

Summary: Iggy Corso, who lives in city public housing, is caught physically and spiritually between good and bad when he is kicked out of high school, goes searching for his missing mother, and causes his friend to get involved with the same dangerous drug dealer who deals to his parents.

I had to review this book on my blog. It came out a couple of years ago, so if you plan to read it, you'll probably need to check out a copy, or find it in one of the larger bookstores.

I read a lot of books, yet the memory of this one is still strong in my mind. It was a gem ... one of those one-in-a-hundred books. If only every book I ever pick up could be as good as this one.   

Sixteen-year-old Iggy Corso is doing ninth grade over for the third time. He’s also about to be suspended for the ninth time, this time for sassing a teacher. He wants to do better, but it’s hard when you’re not very smart, your parents are addicts, and your mom recently disappeared. But when his principal seems to understand what Iggy is dealing with, Iggy takes heart. Inspired that someone actually believes in his inner goodness, Iggy becomes determined to get back into school, and even to be a contribution. That's what his principal wanted him to do, and that's what he plans to do ... if he could only figure out what that would be.

Iggy’s friend, Mo, is supposed to help him, but Mo also has issues. He’s bright and comes from a world of wealth and privilege, and yet he flunked out of law school, and is an addict. Mo needs money for drugs, and so he plans to get it from his mother, who he hasn’t seen in a while.

They arrive at her house, and she's so happy to see them that she invites them to stay. Mo doesn’t want to, but Iggy can’t imagine how Mo could’ve given up all the comforts of wealth. Iggy’s only source of comfort is his daydreams, where he makes a contribution. Where he is a hero.

Finally, in an ending that will take your breath away and make you cry, unforgettable Iggy gets his chance to achieve his dreams and be a real-life hero.

Going has written several other novels. Her most recent, King of the Screwups, will be released in paperback in May. I’ll post a review of that in a few weeks.


Literary Awards 2010: Sherman Alexie Wins PEN/Faulkner; David Almond Wins Hans Christian Andersen

Sherman Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner award for Fiction for his short story collection War Dances. The $15,000 prize will be given out at an awards ceremony in DC on May 8. Read an article here.

If you've never had the chance to meet this man, or to hear him speak, you've missed one of life's great privileges. Everyone loves Sherman Alexie.

David Almond wins the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Literature. The Andersen award is the highest award that can be given for children's literature. It is awarded every-other-year by the International Board of Books for Young People. Read about the award here. Read a newspaper article about David Almond being this year's recipient here.  It is said of Almond's works that they are "deeply philosophical novels that appeal to children and adults alike, and encourage readers by his use of magic realism.”


Countdown to Conference: 2010 SCBWI-Western Washington's 19th Annual

In just three weeks, I'll be driving to the Seattle area to attend the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators 19th annual conference. If you write for youth, and have never attended it, it's one of the best.

I plan to attend it every year, however last year, I decided to go to the national convention in Los Angeles, in August, instead. It's a four-day conference, with an attendance of about a thousand. Western Washington's is a two-day conference, and about half that size.

I'm going with a friend and member of our local children's writer's group.

Are you going? If so, please comment and let's arrange to meet up.


Dirty Little Secrets by c.j. omololu: Young Adult Book Review

Dirty Little Secrets
c.j. omololu
Walker BFYR

Lucy has a dirty secret, which has caused her untold pain. She is the daughter of a compulsive hoarder. Because stacks of newspapers and mounds of garbage fill the house, Lucy’s never been able to invite friends home. Mostly, she’s avoided people. It’d be just too embarrassing if someone asked her why her clothing smelled rotten.

Lucy’s one solace is that high school graduation is only two years away. After that she plans to leave her mother, and the garbage, behind forever.

Except that fate intervenes, and Lucy makes a horrifying discovery.

The book chronicles what Lucy does for two days after the discovery, culminating with a decision that is surprising, even shocking, but ultimately appropriate for her: A teenager who’s been ashamed of her family her entire life, and wants only to be allowed to shut the door.

Over two days following the discovery, Lucy physically cleans the house, while mentally she remembers, feels the pain, and ultimately comes to terms with the ways that sixteen years of living with a hoarder have hurt her.

Another teen in the same situation might not have made the same choice, but I accepted it without question. More than anything, Lucy wanted to maintain her self- respect, and to preserve whatever esteem her family had in other people’s eyes. Doing that meant she would keep the shameful secret to herself.

If the author were to take up Lucy’s life a few years, maybe even a few days or months down the road, I suspect that Lucy would be ready to unburden her heart of the secret by telling others. It’s the necessary final step in her healing. But the book ended where it did, and it was appropriate.

This was an unusual book that fit in the growing category of books dealing with a protagonist’s, or a family member’s, personality disorder—Asperger’s syndrome, regular Autism, OCD, synesthesia.

Feelings of shame and guilt are common in most of them. One of the things that made this book different was Lucy’s decision to keep the family secrets a secret.

I read this for the 2010 YA Debut Author challenge.


The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand: Young Adult Book Review

The River
Mary Jane Beaufrand
Little, Brown

Veronica Severance is a fish out of water. Her family recently moved from Portland, Oregon, to a small town in Washington state, and she doesn’t have any friends. Her dad, formerly a lawyer, tried a case with a bad outcome, and gave up being a lawyer to help his wife run an inn.

Though the setting might seem idyllic to some, with a river running through their back yard, Ronnie has a hard time adjusting. She misses the sounds of the city, and the sounds of the Santiam River only taunt her, reminding her of what she’s lost.

She takes a job babysitting Karen, who becomes almost like a little sister. Adventurous Karen knows the area well, and helps Ronnie to become more adventurous herself. But almost immediately, Ronnie finds Karen floating in the river, dead. People try to pass it off as an accident, but Ronnie doesn’t buy it. Karen knew the area, and the river, too well for that. Courageous, Ronnie spends the rest of the book determined to solve the mystery of Karen’s death.

The book started out somewhat slow, but soon became a page-turner. Beaufrand’s descriptive prose is simply beautiful. That Beaufrand deals with meth use added interest to me. Apparently meth use is rife in small towns, and I found out recently that my own area is no exception.

We might have more meth manufacture, if not meth use, than is typical elsewhere because we live in a farming community. One of the key components to meth manufacture is anhydrous ammonia, of which farmers use vast quantities to fertilize the crops.

Beaufrand didn’t dwell on meth manufacture, of course, but rather on peer pressure and addiction. This should be a must-read for teens.


The Library at Lahaina, Maui

Whenever I travel, I check out the local libraries. This is Maui, Hawaii's library. Charming and small, it sits just up from Lahaina Bay. You can sit outside and read, cooled by the trade winds.


How to Say Goodbye in Robot: YA book review

How to Say Goodbye in Robot
by Natalie Standiford

This was one of the seven finalists for the CYBILS award, YA division, 2009. It didn’t win, but it’s received plenty of support. Both Kirkus and SLJ gave it a starred review. ALA chose it as a Best Book for Young Adults, 2010; Kirkus did the same for 2009.

The pink cover might make it look like a typical romance, but guess again. One clue is in the title. A new girl in town, Bea, befriends Jonah, whose classmates have been calling him Ghost Boy for years. After the supposed death of his twin brother many years ago, Jonah has become pretty much a walking ghost. He communicates with others only through calling in to a late night radio talk show. You can imagine the strange and lonely people who go on air.

When Jonah discovers that his brain-damaged brother is not dead, but institutionalized, what’d been mostly a talky story gains some legs, enabling some needed action and suspense.

There are some very nice touches and vivid characterizations in this book. The reference to robots in the title hearkens to Bea’s mother, who’s having a histrionic breakdown, and finds Bea so infuriatingly rational and unemotional that she accuses her of being a robot.

Some reviewers have said the characters are unusually true-to-life, and I don’t disagree. But that was the problem, in my opinion, with this book actually winning the CYBILS award. It’s not a book that will appeal to masses of teens.

For sure, it will have a readership, mostly of young adults who are themselves on the fringe—those teens who others deem geeky or nerdy. I’m not saying this to disparage those types. There are people who proudly proclaim themselves geeks.

The book will not appeal to teens who love Chic lit and romantic comedy, such as the books in the Simon Romantic Comedies line.

The reviewer at Kirkus put it best, saying, “this has all the makings of a cult hit with a flavor similar to Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

I hadn’t thought about it, but the characters would indeed fit together so beautifully, I have to wonder if Standiford got her inspiration from Perks.


The 2011 YRCA nominations list has just been released

I'm excited! The Pacific Northwest Library Association has just released their lists of  2011 YRCA nominations. These books were nominated by youth in various age categories: Juvenile--4th-6th grades; Middle Grade--7th-9th grades, and Young Adult--grades 10 up. The books are then read and voted on by thousands of youth throughout the Pacific Northwest.

I love this award above just about any other, because it's the kids who are voting on books they've nominated and read. It's an award that shines a very bright light on what kids are actually reading and loving. 

The nominees in the YA category:

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Identical by Ellen Hopkins
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Paper Towns by John Green
The Summoning by Kelly Armstrong
Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
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