Author: Jandy Nelson
Published: March 2, 2011
Paperback, 277 pages
5 Gold Stars
(summary from Goodreads)
Lennie plays second clarinet in the school orchestra and has always happily been second fiddle to her charismatic older sister, Bailey. Then Bailey dies suddenly, and Lennie is left at sea without her anchor. Overcome by emotion, Lennie soon finds herself torn between two boys: Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, and Joe, the charming and musically gifted new boy in town. While Toby can't see her without seeing Bailey and Joe sees her only for herself, each offers Lennie something she desperately needs. But ultimately, it's up to Lennie to find her own way toward what she really needs-without Bailey.
Grief steals you. It engulfs you and won't let go no matter how hard you try. It is a character in your life, following you around wherever you go with no means of escape. Grief is hard to write properly. It needs to be a character in itself, it needs to fill the pages with its darkness in order to feel real. I haven't experienced real grief, I have not lost any beloved family members, but I know how it eats away one's soul. I know that there is no real escape from it. Writers write about grief a lot, trying to capture just how soul sucking it really is. I have no read another who captures it quite like Nelson does and it is beautiful in its darkness. Lennie's older sister Bailey died suddenly one day while at college and life hasn't been the same since. Without much family left, Lennie feels completely alone, drowning in her sorrow and killing those around her. She shuts out what's left of her family and takes her grief out on random pages or coffee cups or trees, leaving notes and poems scrawled for Bailey. The only person she feels knows what she's going through is Bailey's (ex)boyfriend, Toby, whom she find comforting and just what she needs. Toby knows everything about Bailey and she knows she can talk to him about anything, remember Bailey through him. The new guy at school, Joe, is the exact opposite. He never knew Bailey and Lennie feels completely different around him, living in a world without Bailey isn't so hard when she isn't constantly reminded of her. Lennie has different feeling for each boy, and each boy brings out something different in Lennie. Processing grief isn't easy, but with the help of the people around her, maybe Lennie will make it through.
Lennie's reactions to her sister's death are so realistic, I can't believe this isn't a true story. She shuts people out, including her grandma and uncle, and tries to reach out to her dead sister through writing, in some small hope that it will make her better. She leans towards Toby because it is the comfortable thing to do. They can talk about Bailey freely, their grief the same, and the can hold each other under it stops hurting. But Toby also brings out the worse in her grief, as he sees Lennie as Bailey and not as herself. Joe on the other hand, is a healthy way of her dealing with it. She can be herself around him, no Bailey to be compared to. In him, she finds her love for music reinstated and a new outlook on life. It's not easy for her to choose who to go to, which is completely realistic. As we know, I'm not a fan of love triangles, but this one made so much sense. Toby represents a life with Bailey and Joe represents a future without her. It's hard watching Lennie try to become who she has to be without Bailey, but it's also amazing and heartbreaking. Nelson has a way with words to make something simple and routine feel like it's coming off the pages. Comparing Lennie to a houseplant and using her grandma's garden as the centrepiece to the whole story rounded this story out and separated it from others. The poems and miscellaneous writings that Lennie leaves all over the town are endearing and heart wrenching, words of a broken girl trying to piece herself back together. They broke up the novel nicely and worked well with each chapter to reveal more of the story as it went along. Everything came full circle at the end, making this book unforgettable and perfect. I was rooting for these characters from the beginning and I was hoping that Lennie would finally get to a point where she knew she could continue living without Bailey, no matter how hard it would be. We are intrepid, we carry on, no matter how badly we want to give up. This is a wonderful representation of family, love, loss, and eventually - acceptance.
“Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath.”
“Remember how it was when we kissed? Armfuls and armfuls of light thrown right at us. A rope dropping down from the sky. How can the word love and the word life even fit in the mouth?”