We're thinking about her.
Because we're not in a fountain in Rome on a hot summer night with gorgeous Luigi. (15.1)
In a conversation with Bailey from the past, Lennie makes the totally valid point that if their mom is living the exciting explorer's life they're dreaming about, then she probably has better things to do than think about her kids. What Lennie's not saying (but might be thinking) is that the fact that they love their mother doesn't necessarily equal her loving them back.
"Gram says she'll come back," I say, my stomach knotting up, thinking of her coming back right now. Thinking of Bailey trying so hard to find her. Thinking of slamming the door in her face if she did come back, of screaming, You're too late. Thinking of her never coming back. Thinking I'm not sure how to believe all this anymore without Bailey believing it with me. (23.57)
Whoa, Lennie—what you're saying and what you're thinking are really different. Maybe you're trying to convince yourself that what Gram told you is true.
Joe smiles, looks at me so warmly, I forget about everything else. "You're cool," he says. "Forgiving. Unlike dickhead me." (23.60)
Joe seems to think the way Lennie sees her absent mother says something about her personality. Do you think Lennie has a forgiving nature, or does her perception of her mother come more from the way she's been raised?
You'll never disappear like Mom?
God, how many times do I have to say it. I will never disappear like Mom. Now go to sleep. (24.15)
Not going to lie, flashback poems like these break our hearts a little. Because we already know the future—we know that Bailey will break that promise with her death. Tear.
I bet this is why she didn't tell me she was looking for Mom like this. She knew I'd try to stop her. I didn't want our mother to reveal to Bailey a way out of our lives. (26.4)
It's pretty drastic to think that your sister might disappear and never come back. But not for Lennie, because it's happened to her before. Even though she can't remember her mother, being abandoned seems to have lead to a fear of more abandonment.
"Whatever makes a woman leave two little kids, her brother, and her mother, and not come back for sixteen years. That's what! I mean, we call it wanderlust, other families might not be so kind." (26.42)
This is the closest anyone in Lennie's life has come to saying that her mom had a mental illness. Not that Big is making any definite judgments—he's just allowing that other people might see it that way.
Until this moment, it hadn't occurred to me she might've read those books for herself also. But of course. She revered Bailey. I've left her to grieve on her own. I don't know what to say so I reach across the bench and hug her. Hard. (27.82)
Before this moment, Lennie was already feeling bad for abandoning her best friend Sarah. But, stuck inside her own grief, Lennie hadn't thought about the idea that Sarah might also be grieving. Sort of makes her abandonment seem worse, huh? Luckily, Sarah's pretty forgiving.
Why did she keep this real life mother from us? But as soon as I ask the question, I know the answer, because suddenly there is not blood pumping in my veins, coursing all throughout my body, but longing for a mother who loves lilacs. Longing like I've never had for the Paige Walker who wanders the world. That Paige Walker never made me feel like a daughter, but a mother who boils water for pasta does. Except don't you need to be claimed to be a daughter? Don't you need to be loved? (29.14)
You can't miss someone you don't know. By not telling her granddaughters any stories or details about their mother, Gram ensured that Lennie and Bailey would miss her as little as possible. But the effect of Gram's plan was temporary, and Lennie's obliviousness is shattered by a something as small as a pesto recipe.
"Yes, Lennie. You act like you're the only one in this house who lost somebody. She was like my daughter, do you know what that's like? Do you? My daughter. No, you don't because you haven't once asked. Not once have you asked how I'm doing. Did it ever occur to you that I might need to talk?" (31.66)
Poor Gram—Lennie's grief, plus maybe Gram's tendency to worry over her, made Lennie put some major blinders up. Fortunately, this outburst changes everything. It forces Lennie to actually talk to Gram instead of hiding all her feelings and secrets.
I've fallen back into my chair, boneless. Gram stands across the room in a prison of shadows. "I told your mother to never come back." (33.30)
An interesting twist: Turns out Paige's abandonment is more complicated than either an explorer running toward the world or an unstable woman leaving her children. We still think Gram's great, though, and that she's blaming herself too much for yelling at someone who was doing a legitimate maddening thing—considering leaving her kids.
Sure, I've always been into the Big Bang theory of passion, but as something theoretical, something that happens in books that you can close and put back on the shelf, something I might secretly want bad but can never happen to me. Something that happens to heroines like Bailey, to the commotion girls in the leading roles. (9.17)
The way Lennie is passionately drawn to Toby is totally foreign to her. It also shows how she used to think of herself as not a "leading role," i.e. someone who doesn't take charge of her own life.
Why would he think this? Bailey is amazing and Gram and Big, and of course Mom, but not me, I am the two-dimensional one in a 3-D family. (12.57)
C'mon, Lennie. Give yourself a little more credit. Seems like Lennie's pretty low in the self-esteem department. She's a virtuoso clarinet player who makes awesome lasagnas and can walk while reading (not easy—we've tried it), yet she thinks she's not amazing. Maybe she thinks this because the rest of her family is outgoing in their quirkiness (Bailey was an actress, after all) and Lennie keeps to herself a little more.
"Can I?" he says, reaching for the rubber band on my ponytail.
I nod. Very slowly, he slides it off, the whole time holding my eyes in his. I'm hypnotized. It's like he's unbuttoning my shirt. When he's done, I shake my head a little and my hair springs into its habitual frenzy. (12.64-65)
Cue the slow music. Seriously, though, Lennie lets her guard down around Joe in so many ways. Him removing her ponytail feels like a sign of all that bigger stuff, and that he sees Lennie as different from how she sees herself.
I think how things used to be: predictable, sensible. How I used to be the same. I think how there is no inevitability, how there never was, I just didn't know it then. "I'm awake, I guess, and maybe that's good, but it's more complicated than that because now I'm someone who knows the worst thing can happen at any time." (18.54)
Lennie's trying to come with an explanation for why everything has felt super-charged and more alive since Bailey's death. Knowing that you can die at any time would definitely change a person's behavior on a day-to-day level. For better or worse, Lennie's starting to take more risks.
Without the harbor and mayhem of Toby's arms, the sublime distraction of Joe's, there's only me.
Me, like a small seashell with the loneliness of the whole ocean roaring invisibly within.
We won't say that Lennie doesn't bring this situation on herself by hooking up with Toby and lying about it to Joe, but still—we feel bad for her. Plus, this quote sheds some light on why she might have been so intensely attracted to these guys. Maybe it was her subconscious way of trying to avoid being alone. Without all the boy distractions, she's forced to figure herself out.
Margeurite's trilling voice fills my head: Your playing is ravishing. You work on the nerves, Lennie, you go to Julliard.
Instead, I quit.
Instead, I shoved and crammed myself into a jack-o-lantern of my own making. (26.25-27)
Lennie's looking back on who she was before. Because of the way she thought of herself (as a companion-type person, not Julliard material), she'd completely limited her options and cheated herself out of something she loved to do. But the fact that she can recognize this now shows how much she's grown since.
We smoke together quietly in the moonlight and I realize something I can never say to Sarah. There might've been another reason, a deeper one, why I didn't want to be around her. It's that she's not Bailey, and that's a bit unbearable for me—but I need to bear it. (31.15)
The key here is the line "I need to bear it." It's one of the first times Lennie doesn't just give in to her impulse to shut people out, and considers that what other people need is sometimes more important than what she wants to do. She's becoming stronger.
Before Bailey died, I don't think I ever really disappointed anyone. Did Bailey just take care of everyone and everything for me? Or did no one expect anything from me before? Or did I just not do anything or want anything before, so I never had to deal with the consequences of my messed-up actions? Or have I become really selfish and self-absorbed? Or all of the above? (32.5)
That's a lot of questions. And there's no way for us to totally figure out the answers, because we only have glimpses of the pre-Bailey's-death Lennie. But Lennie's trying to figure out how and why she's changed, and that matters, because understanding yourself is always a good thing.
Okay to everything. I'm a messistentialist—okay to it all. (33.63)
Lennie's given herself a new label: messistentialist, or someone who believes that life is messy and complicated, full of many conflicting truths. It's a mature thing to be, and maybe a sign that she's grown up a little. Plus, thinking of herself as such gives her the courage to read all of Gram's letters to Mom.
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)
How satisfying is this? In tossing the plant that she has come to believe represents the old her, Lennie's letting go of who she used to be—and accepting who she has become. Dare we say she's even come to like her current self?
Sarah is the most enthusiastic cynical person on the planet. She'd be the perfect cheerleader if she wasn't so disgusted by school spirit. She's a literature fanatic like me, but reads darker, read Sartre in tenth grade—Nausea—which is when she started wearing black (even at the beach), smoking cigarettes (even thought she looks like the healthiest girl you've ever seen), and obsessing about her existential crisis (even as she partied into all hours of the night). (2.25)
Sartre's book, Nausea, focuses on the idea that "existence precedes essence." In other words, everyone starts out a blank slate and creates who they are by their actions alone. This might explain Sarah's contradictive personality—why shouldn't she both wear black and go to the beach all the time? She's in charge of who she is.
"I don't know if in your mature age you can understand this, Len, but this is the way it is: When men have it, no one seems to notice, they become astronauts or pilots or cartographers or criminals or poets. They don't stay around long enough to know if they've fathered children or not. When women get it, well, it's more complicated, it's just different." (10.6)
Gram has decided not to view her daughter's disappearance as the sign of something wrong with her. Instead, she's pointed out that if her daughter were a man, it would be more socially acceptable for her to disappear. This tells us a bit about the way she's tried to make sense of Paige's abandonment—she avoids labels like "crazy" or "damaged" in favor of a more complicated story.
She's lying on a rock in the sun reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex—in preparation, I'm sure, for her very promising guy-poaching expedition to State Women's Studies Department feminism symposium. (20.3)
The Second Sex is known as one of the early texts on feminist theory. That's a lot of homework to do in order to supposedly meet guys.
This is our story to tell. He says it in his Ten Commandments way and it hits me that way—profoundly. You'd think for all the reading I do, I would have thought about this before, but I haven't. I've never once though about the interpretive, the storytelling aspect of life, of my life. I always felt like I was in a story, yes, but not like I was the author of it, or like I had any say in its telling whatsoever. (26.45)
Wow, this is a pretty big moment for Lennie. She's learned to view her life in a completely new way. She can make the choice to think of her mother as a very sick woman, or she can think of her as a restless adventurer.
She hops on the stool across the counter from where I'm working, throws her book on the counter. It's by a Hélène Cixous. "Lennie, these French feminists are so much cooler than those stupid existentialists. I'm so into this concept of jouissance, it means transcendent rapture, which I'm sure you and Joe know all about—" (27.43)
Hélène Cixous believed that jouissance (which involves, among other things, sexual pleasure) is the source of a woman's creative power, and suppressing it would actually block empowerment.
"[…] These feminists are all about celebrating the body, is language." She whips the scarf in the air. "Like I said, they're all after jouissance. As a means, of course, of subverting he dominant patriarchal paradigm and the white male literary canon, but we can get into that another time." (27.77)
Sarah might be right about the French feminists approving of her idea to make Lennie seduce Joe. They were pretty pro-sexuality.
And it's just dawned on me that I might be the author of my own story, but so is everyone else the author of their own stories and sometimes, like now, there's no overlap. (28.43)
Poor Lennie—this moment reminds her that she can't take the whole I am the author of my own story thing too far. She can't use it as an excuse to justify any action. Because at any moment, according to her philosophy, other authors of their own stories can judge her any way they want.
"Yes, maybe some doctor could give it a name, a diagnosis, but what difference does it make what we call it, it still is what it is, we call it the restless gene, so what? It's as true as anything else." (33.13)
Looks like Gram also subscribes to Uncle Big's theory that she can choose to interpret life the way she wants to. And she's taking that idea a step further, too, in pointing out that there is no single truth. According to Gram, there are lots of truths.
Life's a freaking mess. In fact, I'm going to tell Sarah we need to start a new philosophical movement: messistentialism instead of existentialism: For those who revel in the essential mess that is life. Because Gram's right, there's not one truth ever, just a whole bunch of stories, all going on at once, in our heads, in our hearts, all getting in the way of each other. It's all a beautiful calamitous mess. (33.41)
Life as a whole bunch of stories, huh? With no one truth? What do you think? Do you agree with Lennie?
What do you do now?
It's hard to explain—it's like swimming, but not in water, in light.
Who do you swim with?
Mostly you and Toby, Gram, Big, with Mom too, sometimes. (38.1)
Remember how Lennie's started thinking about herself as the author of her own story? Well, it looks like she's chosen what to believe Bailey is doing in the afterlife: She's chosen to believe that Bailey is with her.
I get a good look at him. I've forgotten quite how luminous he is, like another species of human that doesn't have blood but light running through their veins. (9.32)
Even before Lennie and Joe get together, Lennie has what seems to be something way stronger than a crush. She thinks of Joe as another species, someone who is completely foreign to her, but beautiful, in a primal earthly sort of way. When you read a line like this, you can probably make the educated guess that the characters will have some sort of romance.
I put aside for a moment the fact that I've turned into a total strumpet-harlot-trollop-wench-jezebel-tart-harridan-chippy-nymphet because I've just realized something incredible. This is it—what all the hoopla is about, what Wuthering Heights is about—it all boils down to this feeling rushing through me in this moment with Joe as our mouths refuse to part. (16.24)
Amazing use of vocab words, but that's beside the point. What's important about this quote is that Lennie is realizing the universality of what she's feeling. Her love connects her to heroines she's read about, like Cathy in Wuthering Heights, even though she's never thought of herself as heroine material before.
This morning, for the first time, Bailey wasn't my first thought on waking and it had made me feel guilty. But the guilt didn't have much of a chance against the dawning realization that I was falling in love. (19.8)
Lennie's guilt has been on almost every page, driving her for so much of the book that it's a relief to see something winning out over it. Love is even stronger than Lennie's seemingly insurmountable guilt.
She's pacing now, has lit another cigarette, is chain smoking in glee—a naked smokestack maniac. I'm so happy to be hanging out with the marvel that is my best friend Sarah. And I'm so happy to be happy about it. (19.22)
There are so many different types of love in The Sky is Everywhere. While the romantic love is fun, the book is by no means limited to that—Sarah's been a great friend to Lennie through the tragedy, and this is the first (but not the last) time that Lennie looks at her with love. It's like she's rediscovering her friend after a long trip.
"Okay, stop for a second." She's still smiling but she looks a bit worried and surprised too. "Lennie, you're not in love, you're demented. I've never heard anyone talk about a guy like this." (20.24)
This is no he's-taking-me-to-prom level romance. The love Lennie has for Joe is a full-on, no holds barred, Wuthering Heights type of love. To Sarah, it seems crazy because it's so intense. Which is actually similar to how Lennie used to feel about Bailey's love for Toby.
He looks at me then so nakedly, it makes me lightheaded, like I need to lie down even though I'm lying down. (23.87)
The way Joe bares his whole self to Lennie, and never holds back, is a pretty good sign he's in love with her. It's also a sign that he trusts her completely… which may complicate things later.
I realize something else too. I don't share this double grief. I have a mother and I'm standing so close to her, I can see the years weighing down her skin, can smell her tea-scented breath. I wonder if Bailey's search for Mom would have led her here too, right back to Gram. I hope so. (32.39)
It can be argued that real love is seeing someone for who they are, with the prettiness stripped away, and loving even those less pretty parts. Lennie loves her Gram for so many reasons, and in this moment, she loves her aged skin and tea breath. She realizes, at this moment, that Gram is basically her mother.
I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy. (35.16)
If you could sum up the end of the book in one paragraph, this might be it. Lennie figures out that the best way to cope with grief is through love.
We stare at each other for a long moment and inside that moment I feel like we are kissing more passionately than we ever have even though we aren't touching. (37.33)
If you thought Lennie and Joe couldn't love each other more, think again, because here, they share a moment of understanding. Joe understands Lennie more than he ever has, because he's read all her secret poems. Victorian? Yes. Cornball? Sure. Sweet? Totally.
I reach for my pack, pull a small notebook out of it. I transcribed all the letters Gram wrote to our mom over the last sixteen years. I want Bailey to have those words. I want her to know that there will never be a story that she won't be a part of, that she's everywhere like the sky. (38.19)
Lennie rewrote thirteen letters just to put them at her sister's grave. That's an act of love. Lennie has figured out that her love for her sister doesn't have to disappear with Bailey's death, that she can still do things for Bailey. This realization seems to be helping her move on.
Gram has believed for most of my seventeen years that this particular houseplant, which is of the nondescript variety, reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I've grown to believe it too. (1.2)
Can you imagine looking at a sick plant and thinking it means something's wrong with you? Welcome to Lennie's world. It's slightly different from our own, and this paragraph clues readers into that difference. Notice that the plant that represents Lennie is simply described as "nondescript." A reflection on how Lennie sees herself? More on this over in the "Symbols" section, Shmoopers.
Each morning, when I woke,
I listened for the tireless pounding,
Looked at the drear through the window
And was relieved
That at least the sun had the decency
To stay the hell away from us. (2.47)
Remember how we said that the outside world often reflects how Lennie is feeling? The days of rain that follow Bailey's death are definitely one of those cases. Lennie's relieved that the rain reflects her suffering, but it can't last forever—later, the nice weather makes Lennie feel more alone.
"That garden is wild, never seen flowers like that, though some of those roses might chop off my head and put me in a vase." He shakes his head in amazement and his hair falls too adorably in his eyes. "It's like Eden or something." (9.39)
Joe talks about Gram's plants as if they're alive. Well, yes, they are alive, but we mean he acts like they have human-like agency. This adds some more evidence to the theory that Lennie's houseplant actually represents her. And yes, by Eden, Joe means the Garden of Eden, where the first biblical humans were tempted. Someone has a crush.
We walk in silence through the woods and it snaps me back to my senses. The stars and moon are mostly hidden over the thick tree cover, and I feel like I'm swimming through darkness, my body breaking the air as if it were water. (10.44)
How do you think Lennie's feeling in this moment? She can't see the sky, and she feels as if the air has mass that she has to push through. Remember, during this stroll, she's thinking a lot about Bailey.
I look into his sorrowless eyes and a door in my heart blows open.
And when we kiss, I see that the other side of that door is the sky. (15.27-28)
Before looking at Joe opens Lennie's metaphorical door, what is the door in Lennie's heart blocking out? What is it keeping in?
I make her tell me everything about her night with Luke so I don't have to think about Toby's text, what might be so urgent. Then we climb up to the falls and get under them, screaming FUCK over and over into the roar like we've done since we were little.
I scream bloody murder. (20.52-53)
We don't even need to ask you how Lennie's feeling in this scene. The cursing kind of gives it away. We're glad she has the falls, though—screaming into them sounds pretty therapeutic.
"Gram goes," he says. "She planted a few rosebushes, a bunch of other flowers too. The grounds people told her she had to get rid of them, but every time they pulled out her plants, she just replanted more. They finally gave up." (34.29)
See, this makes us respect Gram. Instead of fighting with the groundskeepers, she just kept doggedly replanting, because giving Bailey flowers was that important to her. It takes an amazing amount of patience to keep replanting things that other people dig up—probably the same patience that makes Gram the best gardener in Clover.
Without thinking, I veer onto the trail to the forest bedroom. All around me, the woods are in an uproar of beauty. Sunlight cascades through the trees, making the fern-covered floor look jeweled and incandescent. Rhododendron bushes sweep past me right and left like women in fabulous dresses. I want to wrap my arms around all of it. (35.17)
This is the scene where Lennie is going to write a poem for Joe about how much she loves him. Makes sense from the language, doesn't it? She loves the greenery around her so much that she has to restrain herself from hugging it.
I walk the footpath that winds through the graves listening to the rush of the falls, remembering how important it was for me, despite all reason, that Bailey's grave be where she could see and hear and even smell the river. (38.17)
Lennie knew Bailey's body didn't have consciousness, but still wanted her to be buried near nature. Maybe this was a way for her feel less powerless, to give Bailey something—whether or not her spirit received the gift.
When I hit the trailhead, I start running. The sun is breaking through the canopy in isolated blocks, so I fly through light and dark and dark and light, through the blazing unapologetic sunlight, into the ghostliest loneliest shade, and back again, back and forth, from one to the next, and through the places where it all blends together into a leafy-lit emerald dream. (38.16)
If you've been paying attention, you're probably guessing that this passage is about more than scenery—Lennie's description doesn't reflect just one mood, but every kind of mood. It has light parts and dark parts and places where light and dark blend together, just like life. You could say she's heading into life itself.
Lennie doesn't just consider kissing her sister's fiancé betrayal. For doing it, she compares herself to the most notorious betrayers—the betrayer of Jesus, of Caesar, and a famous historical treason-committer. Kissing Toby is, in her mind, one of the worst things she could possibly do.
I sit at the top of the stairs,
Know she's touching
Mom's cold flat cheek
as she says, I'm sorry
I'm so sorry I think a terrible thing.
I think: you should be. (9.1)
There's a lot of guilt happening in this passage. There's Gram's, plus there's the guilt Lennie feels for blaming Gram when she knows that neither her mother leaving nor Bailey dying are Gram's fault. Take a look at how the painting of Paige Walker is described: Her cheek is "cold" and "flat." These words make sense, because they're describing a painting, not a real person. But what else to they imply? How might Lennie describe her mother's cheek if she were in a more hopeful mood?
When I do look up, she's gone. Instantly, I want to run after her, take the teapot from her, pour myself a mug and join her, just spill every thought and feeling I'm having.
But I don't. (9.13-14)
Lennie is remorseful for blowing off Gram, but it only gets her so far. She wants to make it up to Gram, but the next sentence shows that she doesn't take any action. So Gram's hurt doesn't change.
With all the darkness around me, with my hand in Toby's, I feel like I can say it. "I feel guilty I'm still here…"
"Don't. Please Len."
"But she was always so much… more—" (10.51-53)
Guilt isn't always logical. Never in the book does Lennie actively harm her body or indicate that she wants to die, but in her mind, she is the less interesting, less special sister, and she feels guilty that the "better" sister is the one who is gone.
I can't believe I'm using Bailey to lie to Joe to cover up fooling around with her boyfriend. A new low even for the immoral girl I've become. I'm a Gila monster of a girl. Loch Ness Lennie. No convent would even take me. (16.18)
Now Lennie's moved on from comparing herself to history's worst traitors only to include herself in a category of inhuman monsters. She knows she's getting worse, but again, she still doesn't take any action to improve the situation.
But I'm furious at her for saying what I know is true. Bailey would kill me, and it just makes me want to yell at Sarah more, which I do. "What should I do? Penance? Should I mortify the flesh, soak my hands in lye, rub pepper into my face like St. Rose? Wear a hair shirt?" (27.61)
Boy, those saints were intense. This is one of the first moments in the book when Lennie seems to recognize that endless guilt isn't going to get her anywhere—even if she were to get all saintly with her guilt, it wouldn't erase what she's already done. What do you think Lennie should do?
"I can't be with someone who could do that to me." Then he looks right in my eyes, and says, "I can't be with someone who could do that to her sister." (31.53)
It's totally understandable that Joe is hurt, but we still think this is a low blow. Joe zeroes in on what Lennie feels guiltiest about, and he is clearly saying it to hurt her. The girl is suffering enough.
"Do you think she'd ever forgive me?"
"Oh, sweet pea, trust me on this one, she already has." (32.33-34)
Here we get to the heart of things. Lennie can never hear Bailey tell her that she forgives her, but hearing Gram say it is the closest Lennie is going to get to being forgiven by her sister.
I think about the ways Gram made sure our mother never died in our hearts, made sure Paige Walker never bore any blame for leaving her children. I think about how, unbeknownst to us, Gram culled that blame for herself. (33.34)
Well, this is one way to handle guilt. Gram felt so responsible for Paige's absence that she made sure her grandchildren never blamed Paige for it. How responsible do you think Gram really was, though?
"Oh Lennie," she cries. "I think you just opened the window" –she touches her chest— "and let her out." (33.38)
In the same way Gram freed Lennie of her guilt about the Toby situation, Lennie does the same for Gram. By telling Gram it wasn't her fault that Paige stayed away, she "let her out." But let Paige out of where? Where is the window Gram refers to? Is it in Gram's heart, just like how Lennie describes the door in her heart opening when she kisses Joe (15.27-28)? Or is Gram talking about a window of the house? Remember, Paige is all over the house, in all of Gram's paintings.
Now might be a good time to check out the "Symbols" section. Just sayin'…
Whatever it was, whatever that thing is Mr. James took us in the woods that day to find, whether it's abandon, or passion, whether it's innovation, or simply courage, Joe has it.
His ass is in the wind. Mine is in second chair. (5.22-23)
Joe just did a trumpet solo in band, and in addition to being cute and French, he's a virtuoso musician. (Yeah, we know—some people have all the luck.) Lennie's making a distinction between the talent he has and herself, implying that she doesn't have his kind of talent. At this point in the book, we don't know why Lennie didn't make first chair.
He starts to laugh. "God, I feel like I'm pressuring you to have sex or something." Every ounce of blood in a ten mile radius rushes to my cheeks. "C'mon. I know you want to…" he jokes, raising his eyebrows like a total dork. (9.68)
Sure, Joe's being adorkable, but is his sex analogy so far off? Soloing for just one other person is intimate, and the possibility of messing up can be totally vulnerability inducing. Plus, by now we know that music is something Lennie used to be passionate about, so there's even passion. No wonder Lennie reacts so strongly to people asking her to play.
"I hate soloing, not that you'd understand that. It's just so…" I'm waving my arm around, unable to find the words. But then I point my hand in the direction of Flying Man's. "So like jumping from rock to rock in the river, but in this kind of thick fog, and you're all alone, and every single step is…" (9.88)
This is the first time Lennie tries to explain not wanting to play music—with an analogy almost as intense as Joe's. Her image of jumping from rock to rock over a river in a fog implies danger, and the very real possibility of falling in the water. What do you think the water symbolizes in Lennie's mind?
I can hear his heart beating the whole time and I'm thinking, <em>Why not? </em>I could step out of this sad life like it's an old sorry dress, and go to Paris with Joe—we could get on a plane and fly over the ocean and land in <em>France. </em>We could do it today even. I have money saved. I have a beret. A hot black bra. I know how to say <em>Je t'aime.</em> I love coffee and chocolate and Baudelaire. And I've watched Bailey enough to know how to wrap a scarf. We could really do it, and the possibility makes me feel so giddy I think I might catapult into the air. (15.22)
What strikes us about this passage is that it's really different from the way Lennie's been thinking and feeling in all the pages leading up to it. She's been depressed, agonizing over her sister's death, and this is the first time she has an extended daydream about something happy. Joe makes her think in a different way—he makes her imagine possibilities.
"[…] you know how some people have natural tendencies, how I paint and garden, how Big's an arborist, how you, Bailey, want to grow up and be an actress—"
"I'm going to Julliard," she told us.
Gram smiled. "Yes, we know, Miss Hollywood. Or Miss Broadway, I should say."
"Our mom?" I reminded them before we ended up talking some more about that dumb school. All I'd hoped was that it was in walking distance if Bailey was going there. (18.21-24)
Lennie's already told us that Julliard was Bailey's dream, but in this flashback, we get to see Bailey dreaming it. It seems like Bailey's dream is pretty abstract. She's only eleven years old. She just says she's going to Julliard—we don't see her working hard to qualify, or even knowing what it takes to qualify. It's a kid dream, not a real plan.
One time after I improvise alone for a while, he exclaims, "Your tone is awesome, so so lonely, like, I don't know, a day without birds or something," but I don't feel lonely at all. I feel like Bailey is listening. (18.40)
After avoiding really playing music for so long out of loyalty to her sister, Lennie learns something important when she finally does play: Playing the clarinet does the opposite of what she feared. It actually makes her feel closer to Bailey.
Big studies my burning face, then says gently, "Whose dream, Len?" He positions his hands like he's playing an invisible clarinet. "Because the only one I used to see working sooooooooo hard around here was you." (26.23)
Big confirms what we already saw in the earlier flashback: Julliard was not a concrete dream that Bailey was actively working toward. Lennie was the one working hard, with her clarinet lessons, and she gave up on a very real dream because of a pipe dream her eleven-year-old sister had.
Maybe he's right and she didn't have it—whatever it is. Maybe what my sister wanted was to stay here and get married and have a family.
Maybe that was her color of extraordinary. (27.4-5)
Finally, Lennie's starting to separate her dream from her sister's. She even sounds positive about the whole Bailey-being-engaged thing here, which is different from her initial what? Looks like she's figuring out that not all dreams look the same, and that being a mother and going to a good school are equally valid things to want.
"No." My voice surprises me again with its certainty. "I want the solos, Rachel." At that she stops fiddling with her clarinet, rests it on the stand, and looks up at me. "And I'm starting up again with Marguerite." This I decided on the way to rehearsal. I have her undivided totally freaked-out attention now. "I'm going to try for All-State too," I tell her. This, however, is news to me. (35.9)
Go Lennie—get it, girl. Taking back your dream and confronting the mean girl at the same time? So satisfying.
"I'd love to go to Julliard," I tell Sarah. There. Finally. "But any good conservatory would be okay." I just want to study music: what life, what living itself sounds like. (36.8)
Lennie's come a long way from the beginning, when she refused to practice or even discuss why she didn't make first chair. Also, notice that Lennie uses the word "life" when describing music? In a book about her sister's death? Maybe music is her way of moving forward.
Uncle Big attended the door as people stopped by to pay their respects. Gram and I could hear his booming voice again and again, "Oh a ham, how thoughtful, thank you, come in." As the days went on Big's reaction to the hams got more dramatic for our benefit. Each time he exclaimed "A ham!" Gram and I found each other's eyes and had to suppress a rush of inappropriate giggles. (3.45)
Losing a loved one isn't funny, but some of the rituals of mourning definitely are. We love Uncle Big for trying to make Lennie and Gram laugh and have a momentary break from all the tragedy.
He looks from Toby to me. "No way out of this but through… for any of us." He says it like Moses, so we both nod as if we've been bestowed with a great wisdom. (3.49)
Lennie doesn't know this, but Uncle Big didn't make up this particular piece of wisdom. The line "The best way out is always through" comes from the Robert Frost poem "A Servant to Servants," but has been quoted independently so often that it stands on its own. It's a comforting line, in a way, because it implies that you can come out the other side of a bad situation.
"…A sorrowing heart poisons recipes."
This has proven to be true, but for Gram. Everything she cooks now tastes like ashes. (3.49-50)
Okay, so Gram's food might not literally taste like ashes, but it's a handy metaphor for food that's lost its magic. A good indicator of how Gram is feeling in a particular scene is whether the word "ash" is used in the description of her food.
The chicken tastes like chicken, and the plum tart tastes like plum tart. It's too soon for there not to be one bit of ash. (12.40)
The sudden lack of "ash" taste in Gram's food is probably a sign that Gram is feeling okay. She's being social again, having cooked for all the Fontaine boys, and it looks like Lennie secretly resents her for not being as sad as she is.
I'm sure a shrink would love this, all of it, I think, looking over at Toby. She'd probably tell me I was trying to take Bailey's place. Or worse, competing with her in a way I never could when she was alive. But is that it? It doesn't feel like it. When I wear her clothes, I just feel safer, like she's whispering in my ear. (21.17)
This reminds us of another storyline in which the clinical description of something is not the truth the Walker family chooses to acknowledge: Lennie's mother. Lennie's mother's abandonment could be seen as stemming from some sort of mental health issue, but the Walker family chooses to think of it as Paige having the family "restless gene." Is this another case where Lennie should ignore the imaginary psychiatrist in her mind and write her own story? Or is there something to the idea of Lennie trying to take Bailey's place?
The truck blasts through the trees and I stick my hand out the window, trying to catch the wind in my palm like Bails used to, missing her, missing the girl I used to be around her, missing who we all used to be. We will never be those people again. She took them all with her. (28.72)
Check out the long sentence that moves from one thought to the next—it sort of reminds of cars passing Lennie and Toby as they drive. Also the length of the first sentence makes the second, short sentence stand out, giving it extra importance. Lennie realizes that everyone in her family has changed in major ways since Bailey's death.
I'm becoming accustomed to The Sanctum without her and I hate it. Hate that when I stand in her closet fumbling from piece to piece, my face pressed into the fabrics, that I can't find one shirt or dress that still has her scent, and it's my fault. They all smell like me now. (30.8)
Lennie keeps all of Bailey's things in the places they were when she died so that she can hold onto the feeling that Bailey could return at any moment. Without being able to smell Bailey's scent, she seems farther away. It's like her death is becoming more of an unavoidable fact.
In fact, maybe Bails would like that I fell in love with Joe so soon after she died. Maybe it's just the exact inappropriate way my sister would want to be mourned by me. (31.26)
Knowing what you know about Bailey, do you think Lennie is right? Would Bailey approve?
Everything I haven't allowed myself to imagine rushes me: I think about airless empty lungs. Lipstick on her unmoving mouth. The silver bracelet that Toby had given her on her pulseless wrist. Her belly ring. Hair and nails growing in the dark. Her body with no thoughts in it. No time in it. No love in it. Six feet of earth crushing down on her. (34.22)
Lennie's been avoiding the cemetery until now, and this passage explains why: Death can be really creepy. But this passage is juxtaposed, right after, with the natural beauty of Bailey's gravesite. What do you think this juxtaposition means?
It's such a colossal effort not to be haunted by what's lost, but to be enchanted by what was. (38.20)
So it's the last chapter of the book, and Lennie's doing a lot better. She's talking to Gram again, she's made up with everyone she's previously had tension with, and she and Joe are head-over-heels for each other. Yet she is having a moment of intense sadness about her sister's death—no matter how much time passes, it's still hard not to fall into sadness. Coping with the reality of Bailey's death doesn't get easier with time.