In young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson writes like you’ve been doing it wrong—the English language—the whole time.
13 year old Noah and his twin sister Jude are as close as they are competitive, battling over individuation, parental favouritism, first love, and dissected pieces of the world, like ownership of the flowers and sun.
When their creative mother suggests the twins apply for art college instead of traditional school, Noah—self-confessed weirdo (“I wish I were a horse.”) who is sick of being bullied—knows art college could change his life. Nay, save it.
His popular sister, Jude, is unconvinced, more interested in wearing red lipstick, surfing, and lunging from cliffs. Until she and her ecstatic mother see Noah is a rising flood of artistic talent in a paper cup. Jude wants to be the favourite.
A mysterious tragedy occurs, which sends their competition spiralling. We are flung three years into the future where Jude, the new narrator, is named ‘C.J.’
What happened? And why are the twins managing life, grief, and betrayal like they’ve traded places?
The decision to alternate between Noah’s and Jude’s perspective, across two time periods, builds intrigue and pace. While some plot twists are obvious and the coincidences mount high, the point is magic, which this story has in abundance.
Nelson’s descriptions are so on point and other-worldly, you may require swoon-breaks. The use of painting placards to demonstrate Noah’s in-the-moment feelings is particularly effective: we stroll through the art gallery of a boy’s heart.
The love interests are just as intoxicating. New kid, Brian, with his electric hair and tongue perched against his spaced teeth, will have you expecting stars to fall from suitcases. Oscar, who is also well-rendered, makes for a less comfortable romantic lead as an older, troubled male.
The novel’s key themes are… something about grief, forgiveness, and being true to one’s self.
I don’t know.
I was too busy being transported and then wild with happiness to pay attention.