I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson: A Review

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Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.[X]

I’m going to go ahead and say that the part of the blurb I decided not to put up here was completely wrong anyway. This book isn’t “for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell”. They basically mean to say that this book belongs in the realistic fiction genre, but I am here to convince you of two things:

  1. This book is for anyone who has the ability to read.
  2. Jandy Nelson is in a whole new league of her own making. Comparisons to John Green etc. are wholly unnecessary.

This is one of those rare realistic fiction books that was just so hard to put down. Usually, that’s the kind of relationship I have with fantasy books. I know that I have to have food cooked and ready in my fridge because there is no way in hell that I’m going to stop reading in order to spend time cooking. Nothing prepared me for the experience of reading I’ll Give You the Sun though. I dove into it blind. When I did put it down, it was very, very grudgingly and only because there was some kind of near-apocolyptic thing brewing in my apartment.

Last year, I was at a loss when I was trying to describe the writing style in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I am having a similar problem here. Everything I say, every adjective I use, will seem like I am offering empty praise. But it must be done- just know that I’m being honest. I mean, there are some very important and difficult issues that the story deals with (death, rape*, bullying, love, sexuality) but Nelson neither shies away from these issues nor does she exaggerate them. Instead, she writes with great prowess and honesty and offers a perfect balance of humour and heartbreak.

And that’s all I can say about the story- I cannot bring myself to spoil anything for potential readers.

As the blurb says, the novel is about two teenaged twins, both artists, both struggling to survive in a world of changes. What the blurb does not say, and what is worth a brief mention, is that Noah and Jude are not the only characters trying to fix things and seeking redemption. All the characters in the book, yes, even the adults, are complex and flawed and portrayed with nuance- no matter how briefly they appear in the story. Do look forward to that.

Now, for my favourite aspect of the book: the twins.

So, the story alternates between Jude’s voice and Noah’s voice, each narrating from a different point in time, each side disconnected by a tangle of lies and misunderstandings. The book almost reads like a mystery because both Noah (of the past, narrating from age 13) and Jude (of the future, narrating from age 16) have only one side of the story. What we do get, right from page one, is the richness of character. The twins are so far away from Fred & George and Sweet Valley that they may as well be from a different planet. (Planet named Reality, perhaps.) While they have some things in common, some interesting agreements that make sense only to those people who are privy to the twins’ world- “We’ve been dividing up the world since we were five.”- Jude and Noah are not the same person twice.

And although they are both artists, they both use different mediums, and they both have completely different ways of looking at the world. Noah sees his life in portraits (“SELF-PORTRAIT: Funeral in the Forest“, page 5), he sees the colour of people’s souls, and he sees their animal side:

“Yeah. He’s weirder than you even.” She pauses. I wait, hoping she’ll turn back into my sister, the way she used to be, not this new hornet version. “Well, probably not weirder than you.” I turn around. The antennae are waving back and forth on her forehead. She’s here to sting me to death. (Page 74)

Jude, on the other hand, sees and communicates with her dead grandmother (thus, the magical realism category is checked), sees symptoms and diseases where none exist, and lives her life to a series of rules and superstitions:

When twins are separated, their spirits steal away to find each other.

Basically, you could read the middle of any chapter in random and still know who narrated it because each of their voices are so distinctive. Also, no other writer describes art (as understood by Jude and Noah), the process of creating art (different for Jude and Noah), and the feelings evoked by art (oh, you get it by now) as wonderfully as Jandy Nelson does in this book.

I want to call Nelson’s writing “consistent” (because it is), but the writing is consistent while also allowing for certain changes to occur within each character. I wish I could go into the kind of obstacles and changes faced by each twin, but that would be dangerously close to spoiler territory. And so, I’m going to stop here.

Why You Would Like It: There are great characters, an incredible story, and achingly beautiful, poetic writing.

Why You Wouldn’t Like It: I can’t even do this section. Sorry, but if this book’s cover isn’t plastered with award stickers soon, my face will melt right off due to the grave injustice dealt to it. Even if realistic fiction is “not your thing”, I urge you to give this one a try. It is, by far, the best book I’ve read this year.

[Note: Thanks to Penguin Canada for sending us an ARC for review.]

*Perhaps not everyone will agree that a certain incident reads like rape, but this is how it felt to me. It was not a very enthusiastic “yes”.

3 responses to “I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson: A Review

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Why Haven’t I Read More from This Author? | The Book Wars·

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