Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson

Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun is beautiful, breathtaking, bewildering, and a little bizarre, but I can't get it out of my head. Somehow I knew I'd love it and yet it still surprised me.

Jude and Noah Sweetwine are twins, so close they often think of themselves as NoahandJude. They can read each other's thoughts and know each other's fears. At age 13, both are artistically creative and emotionally sensitive in their own ways, yet they're also quite different. Jude is a daredevil who loves to surf, take risks, and is rapidly becoming the type of girl who intrigues and attracts all the boys, while Noah tries to live his life unnoticed so he won't be bullied, lives in his own artistic fantasy world, and is fighting his attraction to/obsession with the new boy next door.

Yet three years later, Noah and Jude are barely speaking, and everything has changed. Jude lives in constant fear and has isolated herself from the possibility of a romantic relationship, and while she feels a profound need to create art, she can't seem to express herself the way she wants to. And Noah has completely given up art, dives off of cliffs, and become the person no one ever thought he'd be. What happened in their lives, and between them, to change everything so drastically? When Jude meets a charismatic young man she can't stop thinking about, someone with a connection to Noah, and then meets a troubled artist whose talent may help her free her artistic block, these encounters provide answers and yet more questions.

"'Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people,' I say. 'Maybe we're accumulating these new selves all the time.' Hauling them in as we make choices good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things."

I'll Give You the Sun shifts in perspective between Noah and Jude. Noah's narration takes place when the twins are 13, Jude's takes place three years later. Each of them holds half of the answers yet aren't willing to share them with the other to complete their understanding. How can a relationship that was so interdependent, so interconnected, turn so painful?

"This is what I want: I want to grab my brother's hand and run back through time, losing years like coats falling from our shoulders. Things don't really turn out like you think."

This is a book about the half-truths we tell ourselves and our reluctance to see what is in front of us and say what we truly feel. It's a book about following your heart and accepting the truth, even if it leads you somewhere you're afraid of, and realizing you must live the life that ignites your passions. It's also a book about how simple it is to hurt those closest to us, and how the simplest actions can cause so much pain.

Nelson is an absolutely exquisite writer. I cannot tell you how many sentences I read over and over again because they took my breath away. That being said, I found Noah's narration—while tremendously heartfelt and emotionally provoking—a little difficult to follow, because he speaks in a stream of consciousness-type way, as he sees everything in his head as a painting. It took a little getting used to, but it truly touched my heart. Jude and Noah are such vivid, beautiful characters I absolutely loved, even as I wanted to shake them for making the mistakes they did.

This is one of those books I wish were so much longer because I didn't want to give up these characters. I hope someday Nelson gives us a glimpse into their lives again, but even if she doesn't, I know she is an author I'll need to keep reading. This one blew me away.

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