Unraveling Family Secrets and a Fearless Outpouring of Heart in Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You The Sun”

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Myra here.

To be perfectly honest, this particular YA novel is not really what one would call a ‘mystery’ themed book. However, my Monday reading did look at family secrets, twists and mysteries in YA and middle grade novels, so do indulge me as I share my thoughts about this heart-wrenching title by Jandy Nelson.

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I’ll Give You The Sun

Written byJandy Nelson Illustrations by: Sophie Heywood
Published by: Walker Books, 2015
Review copy provided by Pansing Books. Book photos taken by me.

I have fallen in love with Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhereand so I especially requested for this title as there is something so dynamic, genuine, and achingly real with the way that Nelson approaches her writing. This one did not fail to deliver as the reader is introduced to twins Noah and Jude. In Nelson’s Note to Readers found in the beginning of the novel, she shared her creative process and how long it took her to write the story:

This is a story about love, crazy complicated love of all kinds: between guys and girls, guys and guys, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, artists and their art, the living and the dead, but mostly it’s about the fierce, roller-coaster love between the twins themselves.

Writing Noah and Jude’s story took three and a half years. It was the most exciting, exuberant and challenging creative experience of my life. These characters shook the ground beneath my feet. There’s a moment in the novel when Jude’s watching her stone-carving mentor Guillermo sculpt and she wonders if he’s making the sculpture or if the sculpture is making him. That’s what writing this novel felt like.

One of my research interests as an academic is the psychology of artists – and so this was a fascinating read for me (see here for my publication in Gifted Child Quarterly and Roeper Review). My daughter, who turns fourteen in a few days, is studying in Singapore School of the Arts – so one can say that art also lives and breathes within my own family – which, I believe, is at the very core of this novel.

Creating Something With One’s Own Hands

Jude’s (also known as CJ) conversation with her teacher indicates this intense outpouring of the self in art, as CJ struggles with loss, the ghosts of her past, and finding herself:

“Isn’t there anything you want to make anymore? You’ve been through so much for someone so young. Isn’t there something you want to say? Something you need to say?” He’s gotten very serious and intense. “Because that’s what this is all about. Nothing else. We wish with our hands, that’s what we do as artists.”

His words are loosening something inside. I don’t like it.

“Think about it,” he says more gently. “I’m going to ask again. Is there something you need in the world that only your two hands can create?” (pp. 47-48)

As Jude struggles with her own truths and the guilt that permeates her entire being, Noah also comes to terms with his own sexuality, his life choices, and his accidental discovery of his mother’s secret before she died.

Distinct Voices, Diverging Timelines, and Interweaving Artistic Threads

What makes this novel even more infinitely interesting is that it is written in the distinct voices of the twins in alternating timelines: with Noah at age 13 and Jude three years later. Thus, one is able to already fast-forward in time within the first two chapters, allowing the reader a unique glimpse into the characters’ choices that contributed to what happened to them in the future.

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This is a clear demonstration of Nelson’s craft as a writer, her innovativeness in presenting seemingly-parallel storylines, and her dexterity in weaving these two together without losing the voice that makes each character distinctive. How she was able to accomplish this is in itself worthy of close investigation.

Sunrise captured by my husband at East Coast Park, Singapore

Sunrise captured by my husband at East Coast Park, Singapore

“Love Does As It Undoes..”

One of the strengths of this novel lies in its detailed characterization that sings and rejoices – the characters literally glisten and glimmer in the sun. I was especially taken by Jude and Noah’s mother (the only mother in the world “with her own private weather” and a “walking mystery”), Grandmother Sweetwine and her biblical precepts (“If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply” or my favourite: “To reverse destiny, stand in a field with a knife pointed in the direction of the wind”), Guillermo with the huge capable hands (“He was the kind of man who walks into a room and all the walls fall down”), and yes the English guy for whom the sun (and practically the entire universe) was traded in love’s undoing.

Disentangling Sordid Secrets, Teasing Out Life’s Mysteries

The secrets in this novel have to do with love and its ensuing guilt (wrapped up in stone sculptures that kiss without the lips touching – life and pain suspended in mid-air for eternity), human foibles and life choices, and the struggle between allowing one’s untamed spirit to run wild versus settling down and owning up to one’s commitments and responsibilities. Add the fact that ultimately the right choices vary depending on where you stand in the prism of pain or glory. This is a book not to be missed. Find it and fall in love all over again.

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#AWBRead2015 Challenge Update: 107 (35)

Winner of the 2015 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature; A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book; Winner of Bank Street’s 2015 Josette Frank Book Award; Winner of the NCIBA and the NCBA; YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults; Rainbow List Top Ten 2015

1 Comment on Unraveling Family Secrets and a Fearless Outpouring of Heart in Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You The Sun”

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  2. Of Blended Families, Respect for Young Women, and Establishing our Fundamental Sameness in Susin Nielsen’s “We Are All Made of Molecules” – Gathering Books
  3. [Saturday Reads] Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Update: Horror, 70s novels, Middle Eastern Fantasy, and Transgender Book – Gathering Books

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