Book review: "I’ll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson

This book review of "I’ll Give You the Sun" written by Jandy Nelson is by Michelle Dover, circulation services manager at Bud Werner Memorial Library. This review was originally was published in Steamboat Today.

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I'll Give You the Sun Cover Image
ISBN: 9780803734968
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Dial Books - September 16th, 2014

Jandy Nelson’s "I’ll Give You the Sun" is a magical coming-of-age story. It is complete with the expected angst and tragedy of adolescence, but what makes an impression on your soul is the sense of tribute to the healing power of art, the transforming power of words and the importance of family.

Twins Noah and Jude are inseparable as young children. They are both talented artists who express their views of the world with distinct voices.

“Because I see people's souls sometimes when I draw them, I know the following: Mom has a massive sunflower for a soul so big there's hardly any room for her organs," Noah says. "Jude and me have one soul between us that we have to share: a tree with its leaves on fire.”

Noah is a painter who is continually painting in his head, and the titles of the work reflect what is going on, like “FAMILY PORTRAIT: Mom Communes with the Dead at Dinner.” Jude’s form of art expression is to sculpt women in the sand at the beach and then let the waves carry them away.

Nelson’s characters are strong, quirky and loveable. Per Jude, “I have an allergy to catching and throwing and kicking and dribbling of any kind. Noah is not a team player. Well, duh. Revolutionaries aren’t team players.”

The story is told in separate storylines, and Noah is first to speak from his 13-year-old perspective. We learn that he has an intense attraction to a new boy, Brian, who moves in next door to them in their Northern California town.

Both Noah and Jude each struggle with their sexuality in their own way throughout the novel, and Nelson treats their romantic relationships with equal significance — a choice that reflects the growing awareness within our culture of sexuality and gender as being on a spectrum, rather than defined points on a line.

Jude takes over the second storyline. A few years have passed and something has dramatically changed. The family is fractured and Jude isn’t the same person we learned about from Noah. Jude appears weary and cautious compared to the cliff-jumping surfer girl that Noah presented.

She has wrapped herself in a cocoon of superstition, something her grandmother passed along to her. Grandma is a ghost who humorously offers her advice: “Always walk right foot first to avert calamity, which comes to you from the left.” Nelson’s timing with witticisms from grandma and others are at times laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Piece by piece, the past and the present come into perspective, and you realize the magical story that you have just been a part of.

"I’ll Give You the Sun" is a perfect example of a book that is shelved in young adult literature but is worthy of a wider audience.