More Than Just the Plant, the Moon, the Sun, and the Sky, in The Sky is Everywhere

[(Essay date 10 June 2011) In this criticism, K.Z. analyzes the main symbols of Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere; and how they are interconnected to show the transformation of the protagonist, Lennie Walker, which depicts the essence of the novel: the rebirth of humans and the awakening of life and love.]

Death has claimed the life of Bailey Walker, leaving behind a grieving family. The aftermath turmoil and sorrow the Walkers face augments with each passing day, making the necessity for change and revival even more lucid. The protagonist, Lennie Walker, flourishes, leaving her sorrows behind as she falls in love, and finally awakens; awakening into her new, true self. This change is apparent with Jandy Nelson’s use of interconnected symbols, connecting this phenomenon of love to rebirth.

From the very start of the novel, Nelson introduces a plant. This plant, justifiably named Lennie, symbolizes Lennie Walker, the protagonist:

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 have grown to believe it too. (Nelson 1)

This plant indeed symbolizes Lennie, but the old Lennie, prior to Bailey’s death. As the novel progresses, Lennie, the protagonist, realizes how much of a “companion pony” she was when her “racehorse” of a sister, Bailey, was alive. Bailey was the confident one, the one always in the spotlight; Lennie always in the shadows. Lennie, the plant, grows black spots, an unprecedented color. This unprecedented phenomenon symbolizes the transformation that Lennie Walker undergoes throughout the pages of this novel. As foreshadowed by Uncle Big, “This time it’s different” (2). The completion of this self transformation and awakening is signified in the end of the novel as Lennie throws the dead plant, her dead, old self, into the river, forever freeing her spirit:

Then I reach into my pack and take out the houseplant. It’s so decrepit, just a few blackened leaves left. 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. (275)
In performing such an act with the plant, Lennie has finally bloomed and flourished; she has awakened and is revived with life and love; a free spirit.

Part of Lennie’s growth and awakening is induced by Toby Shaw, Bailey’s boyfriend, future husband, and father of their unborn baby. Toby, the boy Lennie turns to, to share her overwhelming grief, is symbolized by the moon. Although the moon is out and about during the day, it truly illuminates the sky at night, the time when Toby and Lennie find each other, share passionate, grief-causing kisses, attempting to put Bailey back together; to bring her back. “And then I feel his mouth crashing into mine…all our raging sorrow together now crashing into the world that did this (killed Bailey) to us” (114). Toby is Lennie’s light of the night, her moon, and through him she grieves; she relates to someone whose own grief mirrors her own. Outside of Maria’s Italian Deli, on a bench, Lennie writes “I can’t shove the dark out of my way” (113). The darkness and grief that overtakes Lennie’s entire being at any given moment, is the darkness and burden that she needs to face in order to finally evolve into her new self; to reawaken with life. Until Lennie realizes that all she needs is some sunshine in her life, she depends on her moon, on Toby, to share a few moments with her, to make her darkness momentarily less dark.

The sun provides light to the world, and does so in Lennie’s world. Jandy Nelson uses the symbol of the sun to represent Joe Fontaine, the boy who brings sunshine to the gloomy Walker household; to the Walkers who are “certifiably out of our trees,” going crazy with sorrow; and especially to Lennie. Symbolized by the sun, he literally is Mr. Sunshine, the “morning rooster,” brightening the Walker house every morning with coffee, chocolate croissants, and dead bugs for Big; “…he’s like the world without our heartbreak” (83). In not personally knowing Bailey, Joe does not carry the burdensome sorrow. He enlivens the Walkers.
Joe’s magical touch of happiness and life is further seen with Lennie, who after meeting him, begins to live life again; to love life and to fall and be in love. “Playing (music) today was like finding an alphabet (to express who emotions) – it was like being sprung. He pulls me even closer to him and something starts to swell inside, something that feels quite a bit like joy” (96). For the first time since Bailey’s death, Lennie truly is happy; so happy it is as if she has a window in her chest, “where sunlight is pouring in” (121). Joe opens her eyes to love and happiness.

The most significant symbol of all though, is the sky. The sky symbolizes love, and freedom; a free spirit. All Lennie Walker wants is simply to fly; to fly away; to be free. This freedom is everywhere, but begins with love, love which is first felt in the feet. As Gram informs Lennie, “…the sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet” (117). In meeting Joe, Lennie’s spirit awakens, she feels it, the love, in her toes, in her feet. In being with her sun, with Joe, she is able to fly, be free. “…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” (94). Together they can fly. The love that rapidly blooms between the two of them sets Lennie free; she can feel it in her feet; she feels herself lifting off the ground. “…we’re kissing so far into the sky I don’t think we’re ever coming back. If anyone asks where we are, just tell them to look up” (270). Floating free spirited with her true love, Lennie has truly awakened, been revived with love and life.

After the loss of a loved one, the individuals left on earth must embark on a long journey of finding happiness, love, and life again. Jandy Nelson shows this transformation, the revival of the characters, particularly the protagonist Lennie Walker, via the use of interconnected symbols: the plant named Lennie, the moon, the sun, and the sky. In doing so, Nelson is able to capture the essence of her work: the ability of humans to overcome, to change, to be freed, and to be awakened.

(K.Z. 2011)