Sunday, November 16, 2014

I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (ages 14 and up) -- oh wow...

Oh my… I just finished reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, an incredible new YA novel, and I just have to talk with someone about it. I’m sitting on an airplane, all by myself, and my mind, my heart is bursting. This post is NOT what I normally write here, but life must be about taking chances. That I know.
I’ll Give You the Sun
by Jandy Nelson
Dial / Penguin, 2014
your local library
Google Books preview
ages 14 and up
*best new book*
My family and friends know that I come alive when I can talk about books with friends who live and breathe stories the same way as I do—I sparkle in a way that I rarely do in my real world. I’m heading home from a terrific book conference (YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium) where I spent time with a new friend, Rob Bittner.

As soon as I mentioned I’ll Give You the Sun, he lit up with joy (honestly, it was a little more like a yelp and jump of excitement that someone is reading a book you love). So today I just need to write Rob about all the thoughts swimming around inside of me. [Sprinkled throughout are quotes from the book. Because, you know, I’m that sort of ex-English teacher nerd.]
“Because who knows? Who knows anything? Who knows who’s pulling the strings? Or what it is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life?”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 8)
Nelson tells the story of Noah-and-Jude, twins who are incredibly close yet pull apart—each hiding, wrapped in their own secrets that they’re sure no one will understand. Brother and sister, Noah and Jude grapple with their relationships with their mother and father as well as with each other—so there are many times I reflected on how each responded as a boy and as a girl. And yet both are fully nuanced characters, never reduced to gendered reactions.

Chapters alternate from each twin’s perspective, and Nelson carefully draws the reader inside each person. Both teens are artists, and it was fascinating hearing, feeling, seeing, thinking the world through their eyes.

Nelson not only crafts the story from two points of view, she tells it from two points in time. Noah’s chapters take place when the twins are thirteen and fourteen. Jude, his twin sister, is an integral part of his story, but it is all from Noah’s perspective. Jude’s chapters take place when they are sixteen, by which point the twins have become completely estranged, an invisible wall dividing them. But they have started building the wall long before.
“She’s trying to get in my mind, so I close the shutters… This secret is like having hot burning coals under my bare feet all the time. I rise up from the couch to get away from any potential telepathy—when the yelling reaches us.”—Noah, ages 13 (chapter 1)
As a teen, I totally understood that idea of building walls, of closing the shutters so that my family stayed out of my thoughts. Yep, my mom may read this (Hi, Mom!), and I’m guessing she remembers oh too well how there were about two years where we basically didn’t talk. I’m guessing that as a teen, there were times when I just had to pull inside myself to try to figure things out, to feel the intense feelings, to wrestle with my own uncertainties. I was stunned by the way Nelson made me think about this.

But then—oh wow, how Nelson brings so much more into this story. I did not grapple with physical feelings as a teen the way that Noah does—I just wasn’t as aware of them, and couldn’t process them until I was much older. But I could relate to his confusion, his passion, his intensity. But then, perhaps it’s that I don’t hold onto those physical memories the same way…

Jandy Nelson writes about both Noah and Jude’s physical, sexual feelings with incredible sensitivity, passion and honesty. I raved to Rob how much I loved the way she described Brian through Noah’s eyes—both how Brian looked, but also how it made Noah feel.
“Our eyes lock and electricity rides up my spine.”—Noah, age 13 ½ (chapter 3)
But I’m fascinated, now that I’m rereading it (plane ride, remember?), how slowly their connection developed. I mean, right from the beginning Noah had this electric reaction, but as I reread it, I see that they’re just stumbling through those early conversations as their friendship develops. It isn’t until Noah sees two guys passionately kissing at a party that everything started clicking in place for me as a reader.

Jude’s struggles especially resonated with me. She meets a guy (English, yep) who makes her feel, intensely feel—even though she’s doing everything she can to close herself down from her feelings.
“This guy makes me feel like I’m actually here, unhidden, seen. And this is not just because of his camera. I do not know what this is because of.”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 4)
And I think that’s an essential part of what I remember about intense friendships from my teen years and from falling in love. That sense that someone sees you for you, someone gets you. But I also had such a visceral reaction to Jude’s description of Oscar.
“There’s something in his (Oscar’s) voice, in his gaze, in his whole being, something hungry and insistent and it’s untethering me.”—Jude, age 16 (chapter 2)
Okay, Rob, so full confession time here. I’ve just spent the last hour (plane ride, right?) rereading Jude’s chapter when she starts working in Guillermo’s studio and falling head over heals for Oscar. Highlighting every description of Oscar. In pink. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve been transported back to my 20 year old self when I first met Ed. English? Check. Banter? Check. Tall, muscular? Check. Irresistable? Check. So I can’t include all the parts that I’ve highlighted (definitely TMI), but I can tell you that Jandy Nelson captured Oscar exactly right.

And then the ending… which I won’t say too much about. Except that it’s filled with hope and family and so many layered ideas that I’ll be thinking about it for weeks to come. I’ll be thinking about how people I love still live inside of me, even though they have passed away (Molly, Nana, GrandTom). And how important it is to take a chance.

So I’ll quickly put on my librarian shoes to say hand this book to a teen who loves realistic fiction, likes complicated stories because life is complicated. And when I say teen, I really mean teen – I would not put this in an 8th grader’s classroom. Some 8th graders might connect, but most will get much more out of it in a few years.

Are you looking for more professional, library-type reviews? Check out these:

I know this post has gone on forever. But maybe, kind readers, your interest has been piqued. So here's a preview of I'll Give You the Sun from Google Books.

I purchased the review copy through iBooks (plane ride, remember?). I can assure you that I'll be purchasing several more copies to give to friends. If you're dying for a copy, leave a comment. Persuade me, and I might just purchase an extra one for you. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Wow, Mary Ann, this sounds like a great book, and might be a good fit for my queer teen. Thanks for the recommendation! Just stopped by your site in search of historical fiction for my 6th grader. Will drop you a note soon!

    -- Judith (who probably knew you during those years when you didn't talk to your mom!)

    1. And oh yes, Judith -- I was thinking of picking up a copy just for the two of you. I do think you both would find it interesting. I thought of you as I wrote this. :)

  2. I also loved this book - but whereas your reaction feels wonderfully visceral and emotional, mine was more from the head. Which is maybe why I didn't like the ending so much. Here's my full review if you haven't read it.

    The good news is that it's very hot in our (high school) library, which is particularly notable as not much leisure fiction, much less YA fiction, is checked out.

  3. I've been hearing so much buzz about this book! Definitely have to read it now!

  4. Putting a hold on it. Really excited to read this!

    1. I hope you like it, Beth -- let me know what you think of it. I know it isn't for everyone.