Last Monday, most of you came to the conclusion that based on the description and plot that THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is not high concept. I can see your point. But if you want to write or understand how to make a low concept book have high impact, then keep reading.
Opening Image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)
I fell in love with this opening. Lennie is sitting with her Gram and her Uncle, known as Big, as they contemplate Lennie’s emotional health and her future based on a plant. The plant, which has always been “connected” to Lennie has black spots and is quite sickly.
You’d think the opening would show Lennie’s life before Bailey died, but it starts four weeks after. So how is this the before snapshot? Well, it’s her life without Bailey before things start changing and getting out of control.
Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)
The plant says it all. This story is about survival and grieving. Will the plant survive? Which really represents Lennie. Will she make it through this experience a survivor?
In this opening, several times over, Gram and Big ask if the plant is going to recover.
Because this is more literary and character driven we are absolutely drenched in Lennie on every page. Every chapter in Act I shows us a different aspect of her life and her troubled relationships.
Lennie’s goal is to get through every day and face the challenges of how grief has changed all her relationships.
The stakes are extremely high for Lennie. It’s about the survival of her as a person, living, without her sister. She might not be saving the world or fighting a demon king, but to me, the stakes are just as high as if she were.
Six things that need fixing:
- Lennie’s soured relationship with her best friend, Sarah.
- Lennie sits in the closet, wearing her sister’s clothes, to grieve.
- Lennie doesn’t talk to her Gram anymore, refusing teatime or talks.
- Lennie’s lack of passion when playing the clarinet.
- Her bedroom, she shared with Bailey, has not changed, even down to Bailey’s dirty laundry.
- Lennie writes poetry and leaves the pages in random places around town.
- She’s been finding a reprieve from her grief while kissing Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby.
Catalyst: (the game-changing moment)
For me, the catalyst occurs in chapter 6, when Joe, new student and band mate, asks if they can play their instruments together. At this point, Lennie says no. But it gets her thinking. It symbolizes her unwillingness to let go of her grief, or even try. But we learn the problem stems to before Bailey’s death. Lennie has been struggling with a lack of passion in her music for over a year. So, a fellow talented musician asking her to play is a big deal. Almost as big, or bigger (in a personal way), than Frodo being asked to be the ring bearer and carry the ring to Mordor.
Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)
Okay, I’m going to be honest. I found it easier to find the debate in this character-driven story than I have some of the plot-driven stories. And maybe that’s because so much is being asked of Lennie that finding a debate is like plucking grapes off the vine.
Is she going to start living life again? But it is represented by one question. Joe keeps asking her to play with him, and she keeps saying no. When is she going to play again? When is she going to let go of the past?
At the end of Act I, Lennie is trying to pack up her sister’s stuff, but she’s having a hard time. Her and Toby go for a walk and share another emotional kiss. But it’s a kiss that develops from thinking about her sister and questioning how can the world go on? It’s a big moment. A dark moment.
And so ends, Act I.
Question: Do you think the only reason this book is high impact is because it deals with life and death and is more character driven? Have you read a high concept plot driven book with such impact?
Great break down of the story, Laura. I had forgotten what the book was about (beyond the bed in the forest) until now.
You’re right, it easier to find the debate in character based stories.
Can’t wait for the next part of the series. 🙂
I’m actually glad this book has garnered so much praise even though it doesn’t have a high concept premise. YA needs more stories like this.
Stina – yes the bed in the forest is easy to remember. Have you seen the paperback cover? It’s awesome!
Lydia – For me, this book was top notch in so many ways! I can’t believe I put off reading it!
I think a story doesn’t need to be high concept to make an impact on a reader. Dealing with grief is such an intimate thing, this sounds like a great book.
Laura, I’ve yet to read this book, but you’ve sure made a great argument for reasons why I should. I’m a sucker for the character, who struggles with emotional issues. Personally, that’s why your description appeals to me. I have no doubt that I’d ‘feel’ for the MC from the get go. I agree with Anne’s assessment: I don’t believe a story needs to be high concept to impact a reader.
Anne – I agree. Sometimes high concept books have a hard time pulling off the big impact.
Sheri – It’s def. worth reading!
I haven’t read this yet, admittedly because the subject doesn’t really doesn’t interest me. But I agree with Anne that a story doesn’t need to be high concept to have an impact. But I do find a lot of high-concept novels to have big impacts — it might, however, be personal reading preference.
omg… sits in the closet wearing her sisters clothes to grieve??? Now I can’t read this book. You realize I have two daughters who are inseparable? Just reading that line was almost too much… :p
But this sounds like a great book. Ugh. Thanks, Laura! 😀
Emy – The topic didn’t interest me for a long time either. And yes some high concept can have a big impact, I think the last couple I’ve read were just a disappointment. 🙂
Leigh – I understand. But it wasn’t even the grieving experience that sucked me into the story. It was the writing and the voice. It wasn’t even about the relationship between the sisters, not really, but about Lennie and her journey. Her sister’s death was just a part of it.
I thought this was a great book, but I really did separate it in my mind from the more plot-driven books I read. I liked your breakdown. Great as usual!
Most of the books that I”ve really loved lately or have stuck with me have been about emotional issues without a lot of high concept stuff weighing it down.
Great analysis, Laura! I was sucked into this book while reading it. I think it had a lot to do with the stakes. I wanted to read on and find out if Lennie turned out okay.
The Frodo thing really helped ground me – thanks. LOL! I’m not THAT bad, he he he. Great breakdown. I guess I wonder why forcing it into a category is important? This isn’t meant as an insult in any way. On the contrary, I want to hear a post or something on that because I think it’s an important question. 😀
I haven’t read this book, but I am very much drawn by characters though. The plot can be interesting but if I’m not invested in the characters, I probably won’t like it.
To be honest, I haven’t read this book because of the subject matter. But now I’m really curious. I’ll look for it at the bookstore this week!
I think because this is such a character driven story and the emotions are right there, that’s what gives this book so much impact. You’re totally in her head from page one. And it has some pretty amazing kissing scenes 🙂
I thought this was a special book. I’ve recommended it to a couple of other people who didn’t love it as much as me. I think the subject-matter, quirky characters, and whimsy in the midst of tragic circumstances sucked me in. The book also made me uncomfortable and angry with the protagonist at times. It was so well done.
I just think YAers are so contemplative…they don’t need a book to be high concept in order to enjoy it. However, if you’re a YA thriller writer, you will have a huge audience. These “kids” are multi-dimensional, but they like a good thrill…who doesn’t?
Awesome stuff, Laura. As someone who struggles with structure, it’s so great to see it broken down like this. Keep ’em coming!
Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse
I’m having an epiphany moment with this breakdown. Love it. I’m also moving this book up to the top of my TBR list. The comparison to the plant hooked me. I have a suffering rose in my front yard that meets that description.