Ever since the sudden, tragic death of her sister Bailey, Lennie has basically shut down. She doesn’t talk to anyone, not even her best friend or her grandmother. Her only consolations are reading Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time and writing poetry about her sister, which she leaves in bits and pieces all over town. A month after Bailey’s death, Lennie returns to school and band practice on autopilot — that is, until she meets the new kid, Joe, who is both an amazing musician and an impossibly handsome boy. Joe is a shock to her system, and her instant crush on him actually seems to be requited. But Lennie is struggling with several conflicting emotions, including fear and guilt that she is betraying Bailey by continuing to live her life. Then there’s Bailey’s boyfriend Toby, who is turning to Lennie to ease his grief because she’s the only one who understands. As Lennie sorts out her complicated personal life, she also slowly begins to work through her grief.
I really loved Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, so I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this one quite as much, although I still thought it was a good read. Much as Lennie annoyed me sometimes — she spends a lot of the novel preoccupied by Joe and/or Toby — her actions did seem realistic to me. The romance was ultimately very sweet, but my favorite part of the book was the portrayal of Lennie and Bailey’s relationship. They’re only a year apart, and they’ve always been very close, with Lennie looking up to Bailey as the older and more extroverted sister. But in the aftermath of Bailey’s death, Lennie realizes that Bailey kept some secrets from her. She also learns that her admiration of Bailey has actually prevented her from following her own dreams, because she always felt that Bailey was the one who deserved the spotlight. I thought this relationship was very complex and interesting, and I’m glad Nelson spent so much time on it, although the romantic story was a little thinner as a result. Overall, I would still recommend this book, even though it didn’t quite grab me in the same way that I’ll Give You the Sun did.