I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Publisher: Dial (September 2014)
Length: 371 pgs
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Hardcover, checked out from my local library
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
This book, hands down, winds the “Perfect Prose” award of 2014 from my blog. I’ve yet to encounter a YA novel that even gets close to incorporating magical realism the way that I’ll Give You the Sun does, and while at first a little jarring, I found it to be a fantastic effect in a novel that focuses so much on artistic expression and with characters who are so emotive. It’s really unlike anything else that I’ve read all year.
I’ll Give You the Sun is an artfully (literally) woven tale about twins who were inseparable as children and who have lost their connection after a tragic family event. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, with Noah narrating the younger years (13-14) and his sister Jude voicing the older years (16). This back and forth narration was done insanely well, with each twin having such a distinct voice yet each having their own little quirks in their narration, from “bible” tips to artwork titles (it sounds strange now but you’ll see how wonderful it is once you read the book- and the fact that their names are both biblical and are ironically perfect for both of their personalities is just so perfect it makes me want to hug the book forever). Both twins narrate their own unique experience of growing up in their small Northern California town with their parents and both deal with a lot of hard topics, especially when it comes to death and sexuality, and it’s so tastefully narrated in a way that never treats any topic in a way that’s taboo, but rather faces these issues honestly and head-on, the way a teenager would in their uncensored mind. I cannot applaud Jandy Nelson enough for her narration.
The prose is also beautiful- there’s literally no other way to describe it. The magical realism is tangible and fleshes out the narration even more (as it exaggerates situations in the same way a teenager would feel everything with their heightened emotions) though sometimes the metaphors and imagery becomes a bit heavy handed and hard to get through. The magical feel of the prose adds the atmosphere of artistic expression throughout the novel: “Sometimes lately, I catch her shadow creeping around my bed at night trying to pull the dreams out of my head.” (57).
Art also plays a huge, huge role in this book. Both characters have such a love/hate relationship with their artistic expression, and art plays such a creative, cathartic, and even at times destructive, force in this book. I’m not very artistic at first so sometimes I felt a little disconnected from the narrative, yet at other times the power art played in the book was so overwhelming that I couldn’t help but itch to create something myself. I don’t want to spoil anything but Jude’s experience (with sculpting) toward the end of the book in particular, when she has a manic moment of needing to free Noah and herself from the rock, from their grief and guilt, and from each other was particularly powerful.
I want to circle back to Noah and Jude’s relationship because it was so incredibly written, more profoundly and insightful than most romances I’ve read. I’m not a twin but this novel made me feel like I understood fully the tether of the unspoken, inseparable bond that lives between two beings who have been together since the minute of their conception. They’re not immune to jealously or ill will too each other, but every action one did impacted the other inexplicably because their connection was so strong, even when it was destructive. It was like they shared a soul, a soul with the power to divide the world up between them like ancient deities in a pantheon of a children’s tale (see? I’m even getting poetic just REVIEWING the book because the prose was so beyond anything I’ve experienced). There was romance for each of the twins in the book, both heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it never overshadowed the importance or power of the sibling bond in the book.
Favorite Quote (And let me tell you it was near impossible to pick just one!):
“You have to see the miracles for there to be miracles.” (212)
Overall: This book has incredible prose with a touch of magical realism and depicts a relationship and connection between siblings so deep that it overshadows the power of most romances I’ve read. Nelson’s prose can make to sympathize and abhor characters at the same time (which you will with the twins, which makes them such fantastic joint protagonists), fall into her narrative and beg to pick up the pieces of her characters life, and lose yourself truly and fully to the power of the pages. Some of themes of artwork were hard for me to connect with fully which is the reason this book merits a 4.5 stars (instead of 5) from me, but I still firmly believe that it’s a definite must-read for any and all fans of contemporary.
I really want to read this book. I’ve heard so many great things about it.
It’s really, really good and truly fantastic writing. Even if I had hated the plot (which I didn’t) I would still have been awed by the writing!
I read Jandy Nelson’s first book The Sky is Everywhere quite a few years ago and loved it, so I’m looking forward to trying this one at some point! Her writing was definitely one of the things that stuck with me, her first book had a character who wrote poetry about insightful things on bits of paper, trees and coffee cups and then she throws them out into the universe hoping that someone in the world will read it and understand her pain. It was quite quirky and arty, perhaps a little like this one?
It sounds very similar to this one in terms of characters having such a deep connection to art and using it to explore their emotions! I’m glad to hear her writing stuck with you and I’m more than eager to read her first book after reading I’ll Give You the Sun! I think you’ll really like it 🙂
I didn’t realize this had magicalness to it. I’ll have to remember this for when I try contemporary. I don’t typically like prose, but it sounds pretty well done. Certain books get me to writing like them too.
Great review! Just finished this book last week and I loved it. The back and forth and the alternating perspectives were incredibly well done. That’s usually tough to pull off and she did it well. Loved the quotes you included, I also underlined those when I was reading.
Her quotes were fantastic! I appreciated that she was able to create two distinct voices in her narrative, because often times the alternating perspective ends up sounding like the same voice. The characters really felt ALIVE in this novel. I’ll have to check out her first novel! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Thanks for this. A great review and I agree with you wholeheartedly that it’s a fantastic book. (You can read more about my thoughts here: http://galadrielwatson.com/2014/11/15/jandy-nelson/ )
Have you read The Sky Is Everywhere yet? Also excellent, though not quite to the same level.
I haven’t read Nelson’s other novel, but my great experience with this one had me adding The Sky is Everywhere to my TBR!
Yes, it’s definitely a worthwhile read!
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