13 October 2014

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

What a beautiful, poignant read. I just can’t get over how intense it was.

I’d had my eye on this book ever since I read the description. The fact that it was about twins caught my eye, given my own manuscript also features twins - though mine are identical, whereas Noah and Jude (or NoahandJude) are brother-and-sister.

I’ll Give You the Sun takes place in two juxtaposed timeframes: Noah narrating from ages 13-14, and Jude narrating at age sixteen, after tragedy has damaged their family seemingly beyond repair.

It’s hard to write about the book without giving away the twists and turns, the betrayals large and small that make up the tapestry of Noah and Jude’s lives. When we first see Noah and Jude, Noah is incredibly alive, vibrant, painting pictures in his head and seeing the world through breathtaking metaphor. Jude is more withdrawn, more normal, and is the clear favorite of their father (and grandmother), while Noah’s art draws their mother’s attention - much to Jude’s dismay.

Fast forward three years, and everything has changed. Jude is living Noah’s dream going to a prestigious art school, while Noah has become normal - not just normal, but hollow, a shell of himself.

How Jude and Noah put themselves back together is the heart of the story.

God, it’s so hard to talk about this. I want to say so much but I don’t know how without ruining everything.

What shocked me, even as I read it, was the intensity of Noah and Jude’s feelings. Noah, perhaps, more so than Jude. Noah’s narration was full of the kind of metaphor that you expect from people on LSD, but instead of the terror of a drug trip, Noah showed us the wonder of a teenager who hadn’t yet lost his innocence, who hadn’t had his dreams and imagination trampled under the harsh boot of reality.

Jude was by no means boring, though. She was more mature - her chapters happened at age 16, after all - but she showed us how life had changed her, punished her, forced her to protect herself from being hurt further, in often strange ways. She was obsessed with her Grandmother’s “Bible,” a collection of folk remedies and new-age wisdom that led her to leave seeds in people’s pants when they weren’t looking (for protection) and walk around with onions in her sweater.

I don’t remember a contemporary story that ever made my heart pound so continuously. It felt like a thriller, at times, as I rushed ahead to learn what had happened to break Noah and Jude apart. It hurt, so exquisitely, as I learned the reasons why.

And every tiny reconciliation just felt like another dagger when things took a turn for the worse.

I finished I’ll Give You the Sun in a single 24-hour period (over about 5 sittings), and the next morning I woke up and read the ending again, because I loved it so much. I had a pretty heavy dose of story panic - Jandy Nelson touched on a lot of the same things I do in my story - but a few days’ time let the panic recede, and reminded me that my story was different and that only I could tell it.

I can only hope I tell it as well as Jandy Nelson told the story of NoahandJude.