Anyone who reads a lot, like I do, knows the feeling when they find a really good book; a book that you can’t put down and keep reading late at night long after you should have gone to bed. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and recommended to me by my friend Ginny, is such a book, and it was a complete and utter joy to read it over the course of three or four days. I haven’t had this kind of experience with a book in a while. The story is about a pair of twins, Noah and Jude, who much like twins tend to be, are inseparable and have a deep connection with each other beyond that of normal siblings. That is, until a family tragedy, some misunderstandings, and jealousy push them apart from each other. The story takes place in two time periods. The first is from Noah’s point of view when they are thirteen, their family is intact and they are about to enter art school together (hopefully, maybe) and the second is from Jude’s point of view when they are 16, basically estranged from each other, their mother is dead, and only Jude got into art school somehow. Both time periods work together to insure that the ending is emotionally impactful and uplifting. Normally in a book like this the earlier time period is slowly shunted aside as the book nears it’s end, but not here; both sides of the book spiral into each other in a deeply satisfying way.
While Noah and Jude are twins, Nelson does a great job of making them distinct from each other. Besides obvious differences in sex and gender, they have different strengths and weaknesses and enjoy slightly different things. Noah is quiet and artistic, while Jude is outgoing and only slightly artistic, at least when she is compared to her hyper talented brother. Their conversations and fights are extraordinarily written and have this amazing ring of truth to them that is rare in fiction; the way families communicate is such a specific and unique thing that can vary greatly from family to family but this book manages to strike that universal cord that all families have. Something else the author does that I know from firsthand experience is really shows the special bond that twins have. Jude and Noah talk to each other in a secret way that even other siblings rarely do. They know each other better and more intimately than usual, much like real life twins do. I’m the older brother to twins and the access to a secret world that I knew about but never could access that this book gives is really special and interesting. The half imaginary, half real world that teenagers and children live in is on full display in this story, whether it’s Jude’s ghostly companions following her around, or the superhuman reactions that Noah has to situations, like when he wants to blow up or glow so bright he will outshine the sun, everything is delightfully over the top but in a way that is very relatable.
The twins’ mom wants them to be artists and so art plays a really important and vital role in the book. There is a really powerful scene where Jude breaks a stone statue she had been working on and. In and of itself that’s not a big deal, maybe even wasteful and stupid, but the sense of peace and healing that Jude experiences is profound. I’m not much of an artist myself, but I love much of its expression in this world and this book did that on two levels. Besides just being a great book, the way Nelson writes about art express how I feel about it but in a manner I’m not really capable of.
The core of this book is that it’s about family and the power that family has over us all. Jude and Noah have favorite parents and they get jealous of the other one because they don’t have the same kinds of relationships with the other’s parent. The actions they take as young teenagers drastically pushes their lives into new and dangerous ways that they could have never seen or wanted. The book pushes past just the actions of the twins though. Their mother makes some earth shattering decisions that push the family to disaster and it’s not till the very end that the survivors are able to properly move past her. The power of grief and disappointment run throughout the book in a really great way that feels genuine as both kids realize that their parents, each other and even themselves are not quite what they always thought they were. For most of the book there is a dark cloud over the proceedings but as the surviving family members open up to each other and forgive each other after years of secrets, the wounds heal and the sky turns bright as everybody is finally able to move on with their lives. Ultimately, I found this book to be incredibly hopeful, something I don’t get from books very often.
This book is considered a YA novel, I guess, but that does a disservice to the book (or does my thinking it does actually do a disservice to YA novels?). Just because the book is about teenagers doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think it’s just for young people. Anybody who remembers their teenage years can read this book and immediately connect with it. The things that we think matter as teenagers, the things that we don’t but actually do matter the most, burn throughout this book and the reminds the reader of the weight of life at that age, something I think adults forget far to often.
Go read this book.