5 out of 5 stars
Published in 2014, I’ll Give You The Sun is the second award-winning novel written by Jandy Nelson. The story is told in two intermingling parts by twin siblings, Jude and Noah, during two periods of their life. Once as thick as thieves, a series of events leads to the twins separating – though each of them only know half of the story. Only by reconnecting can they finally learn the entirety of their story and move forward from the tragic event that completely split them apart.
It’s not often that I find a book that I fall in love with immediately and this was definitely one of those rare moments.
There was something truly magical about this book. I could tell from every little detail that Nelson put a lot of love into her story. For one, there wasn’t a character in this novel that I disliked. Everyone was as natural as reality; even the bullies, a character type in so many other stories I found to become stereotypical and over the top, felt undeniably human.
Setting the story along two different timelines was a brilliant way to show how the character developed. Reading from Noah’s point of view and then seeing him from the outside, from Jude’s perspective, when they were older was an experience in reading that I’ve never come across before. At age thirteen-through-fourteen, Noah is a typical teenager before he learns the truth about his mother and the devastating consequences it has. The world from his point of view felt large and amazing – I could practically feel the colours around me brightening with his enthusiasm and weirdness. He is a kid, simple as. Because he doesn’t have an understanding of the wider world, just his own little bubble (hence the nickname he is given during the beginning of the book, Bubble), he is prone to making mistakes or overreacting.
I don’t have a twin but I do have a younger brother who is not that much younger than me. I related to the relationship between Noah and Jude so much because we’ve both done stupid things to each other too. Admittedly not as bad as what Jude does to Noah, but by the time she confesses they have both had years to grow.
The other thing about Noah was his humanity through sexuality. He’s homosexual. He falls in love with the boy across the road and in none of his narrative does he ever seem insecure about this. There are the natural insecurities of falling in love, yes, like does this person actually like me or am I going to make an idiot of myself asking but nothing every stuck out to me as making his homosexuality a big deal. At least for Noah. His love interest a more ‘conventional’ approach to his sexuality, but Noah is just Noah.
The same can be said in some way for Jude. She is a walking hurricane during Noah’s sections. She is every thirteen year old girl trying to grow up and not knowing how to do it. The way she behaves and speaks never felt tiring – she wasn’t a trope at any point, in my eyes. In contemporary novels, I’ve started to grow tired of the bog-standard cookie-cutter characters that seemed to get pumped out of other YA writers. Jude was weird in a way that didn’t feel forced. She had an obscure belief in her grandmother’s superstitions that set her apart. During Noah’s sections, you can see the insecurity in her character. Through her brother’s eyes, she is everything – his other half, his confidant, his betrayer, his enemy. Through the span of a year in-story, she manages to build and destroy and then rebuild the people she comes in contact with.
The later years, where Jude narrates, her voice is so different from her brother’s and yet similar in a way that doesn’t feel lazy. She, too, has a voice prone to hyperbole but hers is just as powerful as the hurricane character she is. Jude as a narrator is a whirlwind, an unpredictable force of a character that has so much passion for nothing and everything at the same time.
Nelson’s writing throughout the novel gripped me to the point I was literally exclaiming in shock or empathy whenever something happened to either Noah or Jude. Her words flowed together poetically and vividly; everything fell together nicely, each puzzle piece fitting together. I never at any point felt as though a scene was dragging, I never felt bored. Something was always happening to keep my attention firmly glued to the page, and nothing ever felt as though it was being spoon-fed to me. Things were laid out in a manner that if you looked hard enough, you would start to see the story falling together even before the characters themselves realised it. And even with these theories of the plot I had coming true, when they did eventually happen, it was all done in such a manner that I still felt the impact of each word.
Love, as a whole, is dealt with in a way that never shames anyone. It doesn’t ridicule any of the homosexual characters or fetishize them like a fair few YA novels seem to do when they’re trying to be inclusive. It’s dealt with realistically, with some people using slurs to insult because that is what human beings do. But the thing that I found refreshing was the inner debate some of the characters have about divorce and finding love in other places. The kids were, of course, distraught by revelations about their mother and they do pose some good questions about her. But by the time they are older and have grown, it’s all nicely summarised.
“It was right and wrong both. Love does as it undoes. It goes after, with equal tenacity: joy and heartbreak.”
There was never a moment of slut-shaming, as there too often is in any form a media when a adultery is involved. Questions were asked but never is it denied that people fall in and out of love. It was all treated as another form.
There is something very special about this story. I bought it when it was still a reasonably new release back in 2014, and though I feel some regret for not picking it up sooner, I feel as though I’ve reached a point in my life where I was in the right place for this story to affect me in such a way. It’s definitely going to be one that stays with me for a long time.
In the description on GoodReads, the first line says ‘A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell’. I personally feel this does the book little justice. It is in a league of its own.