Publication Date: March 9, 2010
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 288 (Hardcover)
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and 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 center 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, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.
This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.
Before I begin, I want to thank Bekka from Great Imaginations for being an amazing Epic Recs partner and for making this awesome book my October rec.
Although this novel was Jandy Nelson's debut, the first novel I read by this author was her hotly anticipated sophomore novel, I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN. To put it simply, I loved this book because it spoke to me in so many different ways, and because of this I was a bit wary of her debut. Sure, a ton of people loved it, but the concept of the hype machine setting a book up for a huge fall worries me since it has happened to me so many times. If Bekka hadn't dared me to read this, I can't say I would have gotten to it as early as I now have.
Once again, Nelson wowed me with her beautiful prose and usage of metaphor. She has this writing style that is very similar between the two books where her characters have otherwordly qualities that make them so perfectly awkward yet endearing all the same. However, this cast of characters was slightly less than perfect in my eyes. While every character stood apart and was their own kind of awesome, there was an overall childish vibe to this novel that really got under my skin. I often had to remind myself that the main character and the love interest are seventeen years old and shouldn't always be acting as young as they are, hence the docked star because of my inability to connect to them at all times.
Lennie, named after John Lennon, is a very gifted clarinetist, but with the recent and surprise passing of her older sister she is having trouble re-discovering herself and defining her passions. Enter Joe Fontaine, the beautiful boy who moved to town from France that charms everyone with his million-watt smile that tilts the Earth on its axis. A gifted musician in general, he is highly sought after by the female body, yet somehow has eyes only for her. Unfortunately, at the same time, Toby, the cute skater/cowboy that dated her older sister for several years is suddenly finding himself attracted to Lennie to fill the void that is now in both of their hearts. With the help of Gram, a flowery woman with a magical green thumb and a wonderful appreciation for everyone in the world and her Uncle Big, a large man with an amazing mustache that smokes a lot of weed and loves love, Lennie must overcome heartbreak and rediscover herself and what it means to grieve and be loved all at once.
The romance in this book was great. I loved the beginning and I loved the ending, but a few questionable moments occur between the two. While there is a love triangle, it could have been avoided if our main character listened to her gut. Furthermore, all three parties involved in the love triangle were a bit over-dramatic at certain points, which had me rolling my eyes and thinking "ahh, young love" because it's that over-dramatic and unnecessary.
With all of that in mind, I have to say that this book did blow me away. It's a complicated, hard story. At one point I found myself tearing up so often because I was so emotionally drained that I had to take a small nap. Coming to terms with the sudden loss of a loved one, especially one that is still a teenager is hard. Beating yourself up over it and having guilt eat you alive is only natural, but it's also all-consuming and suffocating. Despite the book being so short, Nelson makes these feelings incredibly clear to readers. She shows how when one finally finds hope and begins to live a normal life again, the guilt consumes them because they feel it is too soon to be happy. She also exemplifies that any struggle can be overcome when surrounded by positive energy and good people (and cute boys). She just makes you feel everything from despair to happiness, and I couldn't ask for anything else from an author.
Read this book if you like strong storylines, unique and lovable characters, a great romance, and a coming of age story like no other. Also beautiful prose and metaphor since that is synonymous with Jandy Nelson at this point.
Warning: There is underage drinking, the mention of drugs, and talk of sex in this novel with a few instances of graphic content as well.. Not appropriate for young readers.