Noah and Jude are twins and opposites: At age thirteen, Noah is a brilliant painter–a muse to his mother and true to his own “revolutionary” inner fire while Jude wears “flame retardant” and a bikini, hanging out with “surftards” on the beach (even if she is secretly creeping off to sculpt whimsical sand-women in bas relief).
But by age sixteen, Jude is boycotting men, wearing ugly baggy clothes as an invisibility costume and struggling to find a way through art school–while Noah has destroyed all of his paintings, joined the cross country team, and begun pretending he’s straight.
And in I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson tells the story of how they got from thirteen to sixteen–and beyond–in perfect, crystalline prose. While plenty of authors have done interesting things structurally with time and alternating points-of-view, Nelson ups the ante by crafting these elements together with pitch-perfect voice. And remember, not just one voice for each of the twins, but two: one for the sixteen-year-old selves and another for the thirteen-year-old selves. She manages it in part by giving each twin a habit of the mind that also functions as a tell. Noah “mind paints” and titles his works–
- PORTRAIT: Mom and Dad with Screeching Tea Kettles for Heads.
- PORTRAIT, SELF-PORTRAIT: The Boy Who Watched the Boy Hypnotize the World
Jude recalls superstitions from her grandmother’s “bible”–
- To avoid serious illness, keep an onion in your pocket (Check. Can’t be too careful.)
- If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply (Jury’s out. No boy has ever given me an orange.)
Also (always a major plus in my book), there is love. While there are deep, soul-stirring, uber-passionate romantic loves in this book, those loves are given a place in tandem with all the other kinds of loves: the love of family, the love of art, the love of self. Nelson demands that we acknowledge the ways all of these loves can be blindingly powerful, joyful, and fundamental to our existence while also expecting us to acknowledge that their loss can catapult us into our greatest darknesses.
While I admit that the change in Jude near the end of the novel (a breathtaking change that made me love her even more) seemed sudden and very philosophical, almost like a moral at the end of the story–I also admit I didn’t mind. I had been rooting for Jude to come of age in a powerful way, and she managed it beautifully. If only all of us could embrace the that girl inside and add her to our wobbly-people-pole selves!
So bottom line? I don’t know what to say except this: I checked it out of the library, but I will buy it and add it to my patronus-producing bookshelf. She belongs there with Rainbow Rowell and Sherman Alexie and John Green and The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She just does.
Or to borrow a phrase from Jude, OMFCG I loved this book.