I’ll Give You the Sun (2014) by Jandy Nelson is pure sunshine – from its bright yellow cover to its colourful, vivid cast of characters. Mid lockdown, it was just what I needed to kick me back into reading when I was out of the habit. It’s plot was dramatic enough to grip me but it never bummed me out for a second either. Everyone was so sympathetic and real, so when I picked it up I got sucked into it immediately.
I’d read Nelson’s first book, the Sky is Everywhere (2010) when I was sixteen and felt the same about it – I’d totally loved it and was captured fully by every character. Seven years on, I’ll Give You the Sun enraptured me the same way.
Nelson’s use of inserting Noah’s thoughts throughout his narratives in the form of titles of paintings inspired by what’s happening around him is creative and insightful. It’s a cheat sheet to the reader, marking which moments in his life are particularly prominent to him. Jude’s narration of her life three years after Noah’s is emotional and lovely, telling the story of a teenaged girl who’s done relatively unwise things when she was younger and trying to be cool, but is now older and smarter and paying for those previous decisions. She gets such a hard rap from everyone in the book (and I feel like readers too!) but really she’s just going through the motions of grief, of figuring herself out, of trying to do well by her family and make up for what she’s done. I like Noah, but I found Jude to be the more sympathetic and overall likable twin of the two.
Splitting the narration across two different years was really exciting too. Each chapter made me ask more questions, and excited me more about how they’d be answered when the next twin came to tell their story. Reading Jude’s chapters, I’d be so curious to see how she and Noah came to be where they are emotionally, and when reading Noah’s, I’d be so puzzled wondering how they got from being innocent and bright little things to what they become at age 16 – that is to say, nearly the exact opposites of what they were when they were 13. The drama built at an excellent pace – while the book started as lofty and fun, it really delved into dark and dangerous territories as we learned more about the death of the twins’ mother, Dianna, and her affair with the sculpture that comes to mentor Jude.
The love stories that the twins experience are extremely intense to the point of being a little uncomfortable to read, especially in the case of Jude. She begins a flirty relationship with a man who is 19 to her 16, and while three years doesn’t seem like such a problematic age gap for a couple, it is when one part of it is still a child in high school and the other is an adult in college. At the end of her story, Jude and the guy, Oscar, are kind of going out and kind of not. Oscar airs out how inappropriate the gap is but Jude wants to pursue the relationship anyway. Where they end up after this conversation is a touch vague. The way it’s left just left me with some bad vibes, with Jude basically begging to be with him and him almost reluctantly accepting it. Bad energy.
Other than that sketchy bit at the end, I really liked this book. It was wholesome and soft and refreshing when everything was seeming so negative this year. It was creative and so immersive, I adored the purple prose. The relationships presented were honest, touching and devastating all at once, and I genuinely wanted most characters just to be happy. Rumour has it that Nelson is working on book three, and I promise I’ll be on that like a prick on a cactus.