Review by Laura Anne Harris
Dial Books, Penguin Random House, 2014
371 pages, hardcover, $23.99 CAD 978-0-80373-496-8
Ages 12-19, Grades 7-12
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Mystery
Jude barfs bright blue fluorescent barf all over the table, but I’m the only one who notices. She can draw okay, but it’s different. For me school only stopped being eight hours of daily stomach surgery when I realized everyone wanted me to sketch them more than they wanted to talk to me or bash my face in. No one ever wanted to bash Jude’s face in. She’s shiny and funny and normal – not a revolutionary—and talks to everybody. I talk to me. And Jude, of course, though mostly silently because that’s how we do it. And Mom because she’s a blow-in.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is one joyous beam of light that takes the reader on a truly transformative journey during which empathy wins. This instant classic is exciting, mysterious, and a deeply emotional novel that, “will remake the world.”
The novel follows fraternal twins Jude (a girl) and Noah (a boy), and each chapter jumps from one perspective to the other. The odd chapters are from Noah’s point-of-view while they are both thirteen and the even chapters jump forward three years and focus on Jude’s. This conceit highlights the novel’s central mystery: an unknown event that caused an estrangement between them. At first, the reader thinks the separation has to do with Jude being admitted into art school and Noah not getting in, or maybe how the twins are dealing with their mother’s death differently. However, as the characters evolve, they become more complex: Noah is coming to terms with his queer identity and Jude is letting go of her personal grief and shame.
I’ll Give You the Sun breaks a lot of storytelling conventions by focusing on the dual protagonists. In a way, the twins are each other’s adversaries, allies, and the same person—each a side of the same coin. While younger, Jude is popular and socially sophisticated, and Noah is the arty black sheep. By sixteen, they are in opposite positions. In each instance, they feel like the other sibling is not being their true self, a central theme of the novel. The similarities in their personalities are demonstrated through phrases, passages, and ways of thinking that are mirrored or repeated. For instance, the way Jude longs for her crush Oscar is very similar to Noah’s longing for his crush Brian.
The book’s structural motif also allows for a fascinating examination of each twin’s perspective of the other person, as well as the key players around them: from their differentiating opinion of their parents to friends at school. Jude is obsessed with science and diseases, whereas Noah has a more creative out-of-the-box way of expressing his emotions, and the reader is intrigued by them both because, despite their differences, they feel like familiar voices. Additionally, almost every character evolves including minor ones. Nelson understands that characters can change and learn from their mistakes, making the evolution of the novel more emotionally impactful for the reader.
The only minor setback to the novel is the pacing between chapters. It’s an investment to keep going when the individual chapters are sometimes a hundred pages long, leaving the reader hanging for a long time on the previous one’s cliffhanger. Even though the pace ramps up, then slows down, the process of reading this book resembles making a piece of sculpture out of stone: it’s a laborious exquisite process, with a stunning resolution.
Laura Anne Harris is a writer/performer/director/reviewer, born and raised in Victoria, B.C. She currently is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Since 2016, she has contributed reviews and interviews with the online magazines: The Seventh Row, My Entertainment World, and Prism International.