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Book Review

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker has just lost her big sister, Bailey, to an arrhythmia. The girls lived with Gram since their mother left 16 years earlier. Now Gram, Lennie, Uncle Big (who now lives with them in the aftermath of five failed marriages) and Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby, struggle to put their lives back in order.

Lennie is a talented clarinet player who has lost her passion for music. Bailey’s death has left her lonely and, to her surprise, sexually frustrated. She’s always been the straight-laced, boring sister with little romantic experience. Suddenly, she finds herself making out with Toby on several occasions. She’s overwhelmed with guilt since he was her sister’s boyfriend, but the two persist because they feel no one else can understand the depth of their grief.

When Lennie returns to school, she meets the dreamy new guy from Paris. Not only is Joe attractive and a talented musician, but he also has a sunny outlook that cheers her in the midst of her deep sorrow. Joe starts coming to her house in the mornings, bringing doughnuts and charming the family. In an effort to revive her musical spark, he urges her to play a duet with him. She refuses.

Joe writes a beautiful duet he hopes the two can play. Before long, Joe makes it clear he is romantically interested in Lennie. She falls for Joe, but is still drawn in a strange way to Toby, who watches the new relationship with distain.

In the midst of her confusion, Lennie forces herself to go through some of Bailey’s belongings. The girls had always wondered about their absentee mother, but Bailey’s journals reveal she had been intensely searching for the woman. Lennie is surprised by this. She’s also surprised to find unsent letters Gram wrote to their mother over the years. The letters reveal much more about the woman than Gram had ever told them.

As Lennie’s relationship with Joe intensifies, Toby continues to show up and play on her guilt and grief. After she confronts him about Bailey’s search for their mother, Toby admits he and Bailey were secretly engaged. He also reveals that Bailey was pregnant when she died. He breaks down as he tells her, and she responds by holding and kissing him urgently. Joe walks up just in time to see the passionate embrace.

Lennie tries to talk to Joe on a number of occasions, but he is heartbroken and angry. Lennie’s friend Sarah tries to support her and advise her on how to win him back. Lennie plays Joe’s composition over and over, discovering that her passion for music is returning. She’s crushed to see Joe and her band rival, Rachel, at the movies together. Beneath all of the other drama in her life, Lennie struggles to learn how to live without her beloved sister.

After drinking vodka with Sarah one night, Lennie clips the best roses from Gram’s prized garden. She believes they’re so intoxicatingly fragrant and beautiful, they are almost magical. She takes them to Joe, but he still refuses to listen to her excuses. When Gram discovers what Lennie has done, she chides her for the way she has become selfish. Gram reminds Lennie that she lost someone, too, but that Lennie seems only aware of her own grief.

A remorseful Lennie spends more time with Gram and learns more about her mother. She recognizes Gram has experienced two significant losses: a daughter and a granddaughter. She also learns Gram has carried a weight of guilt for many years because she told their mother that if she left, she should never come back.

Lennie decides to write a poem for Joe. She leaves it for him in a place they went together in the forest. He later meets her in the spot and reveals that he’s collected a number of the notes she’s casually left around under rocks or on paper cups. Piecing together her grief, he has been more able to understand what happened between her and Toby. He forgives her and their romance is restored.

The story ends with Lennie diving back into her clarinet playing and hoping to go to a conservatory. She and Gram cook for Uncle Big’s sixth wedding, and even Gram seems to have found a love interest. Lennie and Toby come to terms with their misplaced passions, and Lennie looks forward to a future with Joe. She recognizes her sister will always be with her, just as the sky is everywhere.

Christian Beliefs

While cleaning out Bailey’s things, Lennie finds the family’s statue of St. Joseph, Patron of Lost Things, on Bailey’s desk. She wonders what need Bailey had for the saint and what Bailey had lost.

Other Belief Systems

Gram and Lennie believe one of Gram’s houseplants always reflects Lennie’s emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. Lennie says the rain beating its fist on the roof is evidence that God realizes the mistake He made in taking Bailey.

Lennie says Joseph of Cupertino is her favorite saint of all time. She likes that whenever he thought of God, he would levitate in a fit of ecstasy.

Gram wants to hold a ritual that will cleanse the house of the bad luck that led to Bailey’s death. Uncle Big has built small pyramids under which he places dead insects. He believes pyramids have extraordinary properties and could prolong plant life or revive dead bugs. Lennie believes a mask Uncle Big brought back from South America may have a curse on it.

When Joe touches her cheek after their fight, she says the feeling makes her believe in God and Buddha and Mohammed and Ganesh and Mary, et al. Lennie talks about her bad karma as she reads Gram’s private letters.

Authority Roles

Gram has lovingly cared for Lennie and Bailey since their mother left 16 years earlier. She always described the girls’ mother as an explorer, explaining that many women in their family were afflicted with the same restlessness. Gram says this is why even their mom had no idea who had fathered Lennie or Bailey. Loving and supportive Uncle Big is a frequent pot smoker who has had five failed marriages.


The Lord’s name is used in vain frequently. The f-word, s---, a--, suck, h---, d--n, d--k, crap, p---, b--ch and dildonic also appear.


Lennie frequently thinks about sex after her sister’s death. When Toby hugs Lennie goodbye one day, she feels his erection. Lennie uses the words boner, woody, hard-on and erection when she thinks about it later. Toby and Lennie make out several times. Lennie feels ashamed that she’s making out with her sister’s boyfriend. Sarah says she’s heard about people having “grief sex.” She tells Lennie she “hooked up” with a boy from school.

Lennie remembers Bailey telling her the first time she and Toby had sex. Lennie recalls the three boys she’s kissed in the past, one of whom dug around in her shirt. Lennie and Toby begin tearing off each other’s clothes. He touches her breasts and puts his hand down her pants. Toby reveals that Bailey was pregnant with his child when she died. Lennie says she and Sarah devoured internet porn for a while, but she’s never seen a live, naked man. She imagines seeing Joe naked.

When Lennie refuses Joe’s requests that they play their instruments together, he jokes that he feels like he’s pressuring her to have sex. When Lennie and Joe are kissing, he slips his hand under her clothes. As Gram starts to talk about birth control and diseases, Lennie relaxes at this harmless conversation that they’ve had many times before. She assures Gram there’s no need to be thinking about this just yet.

When Joe asks Lennie if she’s a virgin, she is embarrassed to say yes. She says being a virgin is decidedly uncool. Joe assures her he will be the one to “deflower” her when the time comes. After they’ve broken up, Lennie says she is fed up with her virginity because the whole world is in on some ecstatic secret she doesn’t know about.

Sarah convinces Lennie to try winning Joe back with a sexy outfit. Sarah dresses her in a slinky dress that accentuates what she calls her cleavage, melons, bazumbas, tatas and bosoms. Sarah often wears outfits that bear a lot of skin.

In a poem, Lennie writes that she wants to do everything (sexually) with Joe. After they make up, he lies on top of her, and they make out. Joe tells her his brothers thought her roses were magical and that they’ve stolen some from Gram’s garden to get girls to sleep with them.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Toby pulls out a pint of tequila and gives some to Lennie. He admits to trying reckless stunts while drunk. Sarah calls Lennie from a party and is intoxicated. Joe and Lennie drink wine on the grass and pretend they’re in France. Joe gets in trouble later, as the bottle he’s swiped from his dad was worth over $400. Sarah and Lennie share a bottle of vodka while Lennie is depressed over Joe’s date with another girl.

Smoking/Drugs: Sarah smokes cigarettes frequently. Lennie smokes with Sarah once. Lennie says Uncle Big is a pothead. He frequently walks around the house stoned.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

15 to 18


Jandy Nelson






Record Label



Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, USA


On Video

Year Published





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