This is Lennie's world and we're just living in it (okay, we're reading through it, but whatever). And since Lennie is earnestly trying to get her bearings following the devastating death of her older sister, the tone for this book is sincere, evoking sympathy for the main character from even the hardest hearted readers. After all, as Lennie makes her way through the terrible terrain of grief, we're privy to her thought process in minute detail. For instance:
I see in the movie of Toby's words how happy she would have been, and suddenly, I just don't know where all that happiness, her happiness, and ours, will go now, and I start to cry, and then Toby's face is above mine and his tears are falling onto my cheeks until I don't know whose are whose, just know that all that happiness is gone, and that we are kissing again. (10.63)
The long sentence moves from thought to thought, winding its ways through Lennie's complex feelings so we really feel how Lennie moves in the direction of kissing. And when we do, we understand she's not a manipulative demon, but instead more like a girl who doesn't know what to do and feels completely overwhelmed and out of control. Thanks to Lennie's sincerity, our sympathy is rock solid no matter how much she fumbles.
Sure, this is a love story, but the climax isn't when Lennie and Joe Fontaine finally lock lips—it's when Lennie and Gram finally talk to each other. The only way the Walker family can begin to heal from Bailey's death is for them to reconnect. The tension of whether the Walkers will get to that point—all the scenes of Lennie avoiding Gram and Uncle Big passing them, haunted, without speaking—put this story squarely into the family drama camp.
But that's not The Sky is Everywhere's only storyline. Lennie is definitely a young adult, and to get to the point of opening up to Gram about her very new adult-ish problems (some tough ones: being attracted to two boys at once, coming to terms with the fact that her mother abandoned her, plus terrible grief), Lennie has to do some growing up. She's more mature by the end of the book, better able to look at life through others' perspective. For these reasons, The Sky is Everywhere is alsoa coming-of-age and young adult lit story.
When Lennie first kisses Joe, she flashes back to a time when she was younger. She was lying on the ground, telling Uncle Big she was looking at the sky, and then Uncle Big said that the idea of the sky being above our heads is a misconception, and that the sky actually starts at our feet. Whenever Lennie spends time with Joe, she refers to the feeling of being in the sky.
Often, you can think of titles as a clue from the author about what the story, deep down at its heart, is about. This isn't always true (pro tip: nothing is), but there's a good chance it will be. The Sky is Everywhere is very much about dealing with death, yet the title refers to the sky, a.k.a. Lennie's feelings for Joe, a.k.a. love (more on this over in the "Symbols" section). Hmmm… it's almost as if Nelson is saying that love is the answer to healing after the death of someone close.
Or maybe Nelson is simply saying that love is everywhere and can be found even around something as sad as death. We don't think this one's super set in stone, so over to you now, Shmoopers.
The Sky is Everywhere almost has two endings: a prose ending and a final poem. The prose ending shows Lennie leaving Gram's letters to Paige at Bailey's gravesite, then hurling the Lennie plant over the edge of a cliff because it no longer represents her. To fully appreciate all that Lennie's letting go of, be sure to read up on the Lennie plant over in the "Symbols" section—here, we'll just say that she's finally come into her own and is ready to move forward with her life.
The poem ending, though, is really different. It shows the love poem that Lennie wrote for Joe and then got really embarrassed about. The words are mostly unreadable because Lennie crossed out every line, and the note under the poem documents all the times Joe attempted to preserve it (aw) after Lennie tried to ruin it. So contrary to the prose ending, this ending is all about Lennie coming together with Joe instead of Lennie coming together with herself.
These different endings also have different tones. Lennie is sad at Bailey's grave, but by letting go of the plant, she accepts that she has changed. So the tone of the prose ending is a resigned sadness, whereas the lover's spat about the poem is playful.
In a way, the contradictory endings mirror the larger book and it's dual stories about grief and falling in love. So while the tones of the two endings don't quite match, they still happen at the same time, side-by-side, coexisting just like grief and joy have for much of the story.
The imaginary town of Clover, California fits its name very well. It sounds a little hippie-ish, right? And indeed, Clover is a place where it's completely normal for Lennie to be named after John Lennon and for her school to have optional morning meditation instead of sports teams. It's also chock full of nature—including a forest filled with very old trees and a place called Flying Man's, which is a swimming area with a waterfall.
Sound magical? We think so, too. It's the type of place that fits its quirky, larger-than-life characters well. When you live in a town where multiple people eat their lunches on high tree branches, and an innkeeper has placed a bedroom in the middle of the forest for lovers to stumble across when out for a stroll, it's not that much of a leap to really believe that Gram's roses are aphrodisiacs, or that a specific houseplant really does grow and wilt depending on Lennie's health.
It's not just outside, either—some of the houses and rooms in Clover seem to pulse with a life of their own. Nothing feels more alive than Lennie's room, which she dubs "the Inner Pumpkin Sanctum," because of Bailey's pre-death insistence that they paint their bedroom orange. For all of Part 1, Lennie treats the room like a shrine to Bailey—refusing to pack up any of her sister's things, or even move them. But over the course of Part 2, she packs Bailey's things in boxes and finds a spot for them in the attic, by a sunny, open window. The room, then, in the end, is all hers.
This is a straightforward, let-it-all-out story from the point of view of a modern-day grieving teenager, so you won't have to play guessing games about what the characters are thinking or feeling. That said, The Sky is Everywhere isn't simple. Lennie's language (and that of her quirky family) is a little unusual, plus there's some poetry to let sink in, or analyze, if you're into that.
Nelson groups words together in ways you'd never expect. Lennie is attracted to boys "WTF-edly" (8.27), and Lennie and Bailey go "road-reading" (3.8), walking along their street while reading books. Nelson plays with language constantly, and we're grateful, because her little sentence-surprises lighten (and even bring a some joy) to an otherwise depressing subject. Not to mention they make Lennie's poetry-writing-and-scattering habit believable. Lennie's playfulness with distributing her words fits neatly in a book that plays with words in general.
Nelson goes all in on her descriptions of grief—"I want to cry and cry and cry and cry until all the dirt in the whole forest has turned to mud" (32.2), she writes at one point—and is equally attentive to descriptions of love: "Our tongues have fallen madly in love and gotten married and moved to Paris" (18.25). As readers, we feel the intensity of Lennie's experience. And it makes sense to us that someone who thinks in these all-or-nothing terms would feel compelled to blow off steam (or despair, or guilt) by writing everything down.
Lennie first overhears about companion ponies through animal-lover (and Lennie and Baily lover) Toby. Apparently, thoroughbred racehorses have companion ponies that never leave their sides. Not everyone hears about an animal that spends its life in the shadow of another creature's glory and thinks that's me, but our girl Lennie does. So who's her racehorse? Her big sister, Bailey.
Lennie tells us about companion ponies in an attempt to explain why she threw her band audition: "I'm a companion pony," she thinks, "and companion ponies don't solo" (7.35). Bailey's dream was to go to Juilliard, so Lennie feels like she can't want the same thing… even though Lennie is ridiculously talented when it comes to music. Like a good little sidekick, to refuses her own success in favor of not outshining her sister.
With Bailey gone, though, Lennie is forced to figure out how to be her own person. It doesn't come easily—we see evidence of this, perhaps, in the fact that she is so drawn toward romantic interactions after her sister's death, desperate for companionship instead of taking a good long look at herself and getting down to the business of figuring out who she is.
She can't hide forever, though, and as the story progresses, Lennie learns to stop avoiding herself and start investing in her own path. And the thing is, that even though Lennie claims to have been happy in Bailey's shadow, there's no way it's healthy to spend all of your time playing supporting cast to someone else's main character. Sarah puts it pretty well when she says:
"Being a companion pony must suck. Not metaphorically, I mean, you know, if you're a horse. Think about it. Self-sacrifice twenty-four/seven, no glory, no glamour… they should start a union, have their own Kentucky Derby." (27.94)
Yup—being a companion pony is a life lived with limitations. And like a good best friend, Sarah gets it: Self-sacrifice is no way for Lennie to live her life. When Lennie decides she wants to challenge Rachel for first chair, Sarah says, "I know. Because you're a racehorse, not some podunk pony" (30.31). As the book ends, then, we see Lennie stepping out of her sister's shadow, finally ready to stretch her legs and see how fast and far she can run. Neigh.
In case you can't tell by the title, this book is packed with sky imagery. And most of Lennie's sky-related metaphors are describing one thing: l'amore, a.k.a.her passionate, "demented" (20.24) love for French boy Joe Fontaine. In all fairness, though, it sounds like just touching Joe feels almost supernatural:
For a moment, in his arms, with my mind so close to his heart, I listen to the wind pick up and think it just might lift us off our feet and take us with it. (12.73)
The lightness in the passages about Joe is a real switch from the all-consuming heaviness of Lennie's grief. And a key part of how this lightness is communicated is through sky imagery—in the passage above, this takes the form of the wind. So while Lennie struggles to make peace with the fact that her sister is six feet underground, Joe elevates her heart.
That said, Lennie doesn't reserve sky references exclusively for her dreamy French make-out buddy. While Lennie doesn't seem to belong to a particular religion, she does, in her more optimistic moments, imagine Bailey in the sky, which conjures up heavenly ideas. For instance:
Bailey grabs my hand
and pulls me out of the window
into the sky,
pulls music out of my pockets.
"It's time you learned to fly," she says,
and vanishes. (32.1)
Here we have Bailey coming from the sky and encouraging Lennie to learn to fly, a metaphor for Lennie coming into her own and letting herself blossom. Bailey seems almost angelic here, doesn't she? But more importantly, again we see sky imagery being used to evoke lightness in Lennie. Bailey's in the sky encouraging her sister to be her fullest self, and loving Joe makes Lennie's spirits soar, too. So while Lennie attributes the sky to other people, really, when we get down to it, the sky imagery is all about Lennie and learning to live her life.
Here's a Sky is Everywhere pro tip: Almost all drawings and paintings in the book have to do with Paige, Lennie and Bailey's absent mother. It's no secret, really—most of the art is called out in the text as being mom-oriented. Take "The Half-Mom," one of Gram's paintings, for example:
Before she left sixteen years ago, Gram had been painting a portrait of her, which she never got to finish but put up anyway. It hovers over the mantel in the living room, half a mother, with long green hair pooling like water around an incomplete face. (3.51)
Paige just up and left, leaving her life with her family unfinished and incomplete—her daughters don't really know her—and all of this is reflected in Gram's painting. Additionally, in bouncing, Paige turned Gram into the girls' mom; so in only being half a mom herself, Paige also turned Gram into a half-mom, half-grandma hybrid.
Interestingly, Gram's other paintings are similar, and all green. We're told:
She has every hue from lime to forest and uses them to primarily paint one thing: willowy women who look half-human, half Martian. "They're my ladies," she'd tell Bails and me. "Halfway between here and there." (3.35)
So all the paintings are otherworldly and incomplete—just like Lennie's knowledge of her mother, and just like Gram's relationship with her daughter. Until Lennie finds Gram's unsent letters, all she knows about her mom is tall-tale story of her as an explorer, a half-truth slapped together to explain her disappearance from Lennie and Bailey's lives.
Lennie also finds Bailey's old drawing of their mother atop a mountain, labeled "EXPLORER." Lennie starts talking to the drawing, but not as if the drawing is her mother—she uses it as a stand-in for Bailey. Perhaps this is because she sees Bailey as legendary, like her mother, or because she's always thought Bailey had the "restless gene," too. One thing's for sure: Like Paige, Bailey is no longer an active part of Lennie's life.
Toward the end of the novel, we find out more about Paige—details from Gram's letters and confession—but even so, Lennie's picture of her mother is never going to be complete. The book doesn't end with Lennie finding her mom; it ends with her reading the letters to learn more about her, and counting her blessings that Gram wound up being the person who raised her. She may have a fondness for strange paintings, but at least Gram is someone Lennie can really get to know.
"Grief is a house" (11.1), Lennie tells us in one of her poems. In another, she describes Toby as walking with her from "room to sorrowful room" (11.64) of that same house, making her feel less alone. Toward the end of the book, her poem describes "The architecture/of my sister's thinking/now phantom" (30.1). In other words, when it comes to grief, it goes from being a building she's stuck living inside of to something a little less concrete, something more elusive—"phantom."
The image of being trapped in a building, walking through endless sad rooms isn't exactly a happy one, but it's the reality Lennie is living—especially since she puts off packing up Bailey's things for so long, so she is literally reminded of Bailey every time she is in her room. When it comes to Toby, he's trapped in the same metaphorical space, so it's no wonder Lennie is so drawn to him—he can come into her house when nobody else really can.
Houses are used in the book in one other way that's interesting: when Lennie compares her house to Joe's in Chapter 18. While her house is filled with wooden furniture and overflowing objects, Joe's house is all windows and high ceilings. In other words, even when Lennie is inside with Joe, she's reminded of the sky. Now be sure to read up on the sky as a symbol elsewhere in this section.
Plants are more than pretty greenery in this book—they're practically magical. Gram's roses are said to be love-inducing, people dine in trees, and the old trees in the woods groan and make noises. Oh, and Gram has a plant that is supposed to represent Lennie's health (throughout Lennie's life, whenever she's gotten sick, the plant has, too). Both Gram and Uncle Big make their living taking care of the town's plants, and when Lennie cuts Gram's roses, otherwise patient Gram snaps and yells at Lennie for being selfish.
Each plant means something different, though, so let's take a look at a couple plants individually.
Trees provide solace for the characters. Remember how Gram's expression, "out of their tree," means upset or crazy? Being in their tree must mean the opposite then—cool, calm, and collected. To this end, to find some peace, Lennie eats her lunch in a tree when she wants to avoid the gaze of her fellow students. It doesn't work, though, because Joe shows up. But when Lennie and Joe are together, it's generally a good thing, so his arrival in the tree fits right in with Gram's turn of phrase.
Along this line, Joe and Lennie are often surrounded by trees. Remember the full bedroom set in the middle of the forest? Tres romantic, oui? And in a life that often feels terrible, Lennie always feels good with Joe. So again (and again), trees represent peace and calm in an uncertain time. It's also probably worth pointing out that climbing a tree takes you closer to the sky—but to really dig into that, you'll have to read up on the sky elsewhere in this section.
And then, of course, there's the Lennie plant, which gets more and more wilted as the story progresses. It seems really ominous, until Lennie comes up with a theory on why the plant is dying. She explains:
I look at the sickly Lennie houseplant on the counter and know that it's not me anymore. It's who I used to be, before, and that's why it's dying. That me is gone. (32.6)
Okay, that makes us feel a little better. The plant doesn't show that Lennie grows more messed up throughout the story—it shows that she's growing away from who she used to be. Just as she stops being a companion pony (more on that elsewhere in this section), the plant stops mirroring her as well. Because of this, the last line of the novel (before the epilogue) feels comforting, almost cleansing. Check it out:
I walk over to the edge of the cliff, so I'm right over the falls. I take the plant out of its pot, shake the dirt off the roots, get a good grip, reach my arm back, take one deep breath before I pitch my arm forward, and let go. (38.23)
Lennie does a lot to prep for the plant-toss, and each phrase builds suspense to the two simple, dramatic words "let go." We can practically see the dead plant falling out of sight, and with it—metaphorically—the old Lennie, too.
Imagine if this story wasn't in Lennie's voice, if it had a distant narrator that only described her actions—as in her dating-two-boys-at-once-and-lying-about-it actions.
Admit it: You'd think she was a terrible person. Or, if you're sympathetic, maybe you'd think, "That girl has some emotional problems." This is probably why Nelson takes readers deep inside Lennie's head, following her train of thoughts and memories. Readers know exactly what Lennie's thinking when she avoids Sarah or kisses Toby, and it makes a big difference in the opinion we form of her.
When Lennie tries to explain to Joe why she kissed Toby, she thinks, "My sister was pregnant, I'm about to say in explanation, but how would that explain anything? I'm desperate for him to get it, but I don't get it" (24.40). With Lennie narrating, her confusion becomes our confusion, so we're all in it together, trying to solve the mystery of why Lennie is acting the way she does at any point, and rooting for her to find her footing.
When the book opens, Lennie's sister Bailey has been dead for a month, and Lennie's Gram and Uncle Big are convinced that an ailing houseplant represents her inner life. Lennie is definitely messed up, and barely talks to her family or best friend anymore—she's one lost and lonely girl. With that, the stage is set for a new boy to come to town and complicate things further.
Lennie starts kissing her partner in mourning, who just happens to be Bailey's fiancé, Toby. While continuing to do this, Lennie also starts dating aforementioned new boy (his name is Joe), a guy she is actually falling for. We're dreading the moment when these boys inevitably collide—there's just no way they won't. And sure enough, Joe sees Lennie making out with Toby and bounces. Lennie and her best friend try several schemes to win Joe back, but each scheme renders Lennie more desperate as Joe resists her efforts.
Lennie tries to apologize to Joe, and Joe tells her he could never be with someone who betrayed her sister the way she did. Then Gram gets in on the yelling and tells Lennie she's been selfish, and that Gram's needed her this whole time but Lennie has refused to talk to her. Lennie is forced to confront all the bad stuff she's done since her sister's death, and it's painful—but it also stops her downward spiral in its tracks. So our main character has officially turned a corner.
It's time for Lennie to make amends. She finally talks to Gram about everything, and Gram reveals some truths about Lennie's absent mother. Lennie also writes a love poem to Joe. It totally works—Joe's been reading all her poems, and they've made him more understanding about the whole Toby thing. Yay. Things are coming together finally.
Lennie starts to really be part of her world again—she starts playing music and attends her Uncle Big's wedding. But there will never be a true resolution to Lennie's grief, but instead of resisting this, Lennie makes peace with it. She still visits Bailey's gravesite and can't help mourning the future Bailey could have had, but she's no longer letting this stop her from living her own life fully.