I actually really enjoyed I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. More so than I anticipated I would.
My expectations for the novel were a little lukewarm, like I said in my TBR sum-up; I’d expected the large emphasis on YA romance to take a little of my enjoyment out of the work (some of it did, I’ll get into that later) but for the most part I was actually really surprised by how caught up in this book I became.
Firstly, I quickly warmed to the characters; twins Jude and (particularly) Noah, had me gripped right from the start. I was first interested in how the story alternates between the voices of twins Noah and Jude; where Noah's story takes place when they are 13 and Jude's takes place when they are 16. The unique form injected a whole different layer to the work, propelling me forward so I just had to read what happened next, flicking pages between the past and the present with the kind of speed usually afforded to Sonic. The tension between this jumping of perspective throughout the story was precisely handled to the point where it never became boring and I was literally restraining myself from jumping ahead to find out what happened I just had to know how it all fit together. The tension and cliffhangers were real, folks, REAL.
In the three years separating their stories, a number of circumstances have driven Jude and Noah apart to the point where they have gone from being spooky-twin-close to barely speaking. It was a sibling relationship that was so complex and layered that it was really the strength of the work as a whole. The arcs of the Noah and Jude together and separate were fantastic and how their stories (and a lot of side characters) all began to weave together was really interesting, and well realised. Each very developed and layered, you can tell through reading that Nelson paid almost meticulous attention to the when and where details were dropped, the how and what we as readers were allowed to know/figure stuff out.
Both threads were compelling- in Noah's we see an introverted young artist falling in love for the first time; discovering that with his (only) friend Brian, he is able to really be himself, gawky dorky bits and all. But there’s a darker undercurrent at work, with his family slowly falling apart, jealously tearing between him and his twin Jude, their competitive natures growing, secrets emerging and being hidden.
With Jude, we see after ‘the tragedy’, when Noah has changed so completely and withdraw into himself, while Jude has become a superstitious hypochondriac barely speaking to anyone anymore- haunted by ghosts of the past both literal and metaphorical.
Admittedly the prose itself was on and off for me. Most of the time the writing works well; is expressive and nuanced, with unique imagery. You can really tell that Jandy Nelson thought and thought, and thought again about every word in the novel. It’s an incredibly tight novel, very polished, tied tightly to the stories overall thematic imagery and interpretation.
On the other hand, sometimes this take was a little too much; too flowery and metaphorical seemingly just for the purpose of being flowery and metaphorical, without any real purpose, falling a little too outside of each character’s voice. Voices that were otherwise the strength of the novel, very clearly defined, organic and real (majority of the time). Noah and Jude are probably the most flawed and complex teen characters I've read ever. I honestly can't think of more broken, fragile and alive characters that exist in YA fiction, at least not in anything I’ve read from memory.
The themes of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN are explored wonderfully - and the plot follows in a very sophisticated manner. Definitely a form-follows-function book - but it's done so damn well that you get sucked in pretty early and spat up a little in awe, blinking up at the sun like coming out of a movie theatre in the day.
The added magic realism and supernatural element to the story was a surprise! I didn’t expect it from the blurb of the book so it was a really great joy to have that element of unreality weaved throughout the story.
Though I enjoyed the work, again, it’s not a perfect novel by any means.
The ending felt rushed, I’m just gonna say it, it did. And though ultimately satisfying it was also pretty predictable/convenient, as though the novel had spent all of its twists and turns in the first two thirds and at the final most crucial point went ‘and they all lived happily ever after. The End.’
Also, and I said I’d come back to it—Jude’s ‘romance’ in the novel threw me off. Her love interest Oscar (WHO IS NINETEEN) is the quintessential YA boy—I just couldn’t take him seriously; essentially just a collection of every stereotypical Badboy dream list; here’s just a few.
- older (NINETEEN)
- English accent
- Rides a motorcycle
- Has scars
- Has tattoos
- Has a dark past.
- Says "I'm pretty sure the things I've done are far worse than whatever it is you've done.
- Bad boy vices (drugs, alcohol e.t.c)
- Says: Your eyes are so ethereal, your whole face is. I stared at pictures of you for hours last night. You give me chills.
- Has leather jacket
- Does the James dean lean LITERALLY DESCRIBED AS THE JAMES DEAN LEAN
- Is a Playboy but gives it up for ‘true love’
- Is a tough-guy posturing but also so sensitive
- Is an orphan
- Is enigmatic/charming
- Has unconventional good looks (TWO DIFFERENT COLOURED EYES, fucken Christ)
- Is a charismatic and passionate orator: he's like a roller coaster that talks.
His romance with Jude (WHO IS SIXTEEN, HE IS NINETEEN, HE IS IN COLLEGE, SHE IS IN HIGHSCHOOL) squisked me something majorly (also kinda boring ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Yes, they’re prophesized to be together, yes it’s all v-a-r romantic and she traded ‘the sun the earth the ocean the trees’ for his portrait by Noah, blah blah it’s still CREEPY when she’s only SIXTEEN and he is NINETEEN. IT IS CREEPY.
Toward the end, and I mean the very end. The story finally address this age gap business and I thought yes, redeemed, you are redeemed for me Oscar with your jacket and your lean— so Oscar brings up his very valid concerns about their age gap (which again, creepy) and then Jude just goes ‘I won’t give up on our t-r-u-w love so easily- and they make out.
So uh. Yeah. Good…convo?
All in all; I liked this book. The platonic relationships for me were the most interesting and well written (thought Noah and Brian were adorable as fuck, their friendship first and that tension was really sustaining. Jude and Oscar? Not so much) the prose had its moments of brilliance but also stumbled a little. All in all it was a unique book, an unexpected joy that was both refreshing and unique.
A good book to pick up for any YA reader.