Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. ---Rumi
I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of the imagination. ---John Keats
Where there is great love, there are always miracles. ---Willa Cather
It takes great courage to grow up and become who you really are. ---e.e. cummings
These are the epigraphs at the beginning of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Having finished the book and come back around to the beginning, I see how each is a perfect introduction to the book and its themes. The story is told in alternating chapters by fraternal twins Noah and Jude each from one side or the other of an accident that dramatically alters their lives. In a household where ART is supreme each are raised as artistic prodigies striving to get into the prestigious art school across town. Noah, who narrates the story before the accident, is especially artistically talented. He has the uncanny ability to rapidly paint the pictures that populate his every thought.
As twins, Noah and Jude each represent half of the whole. They find comfort and solace in each others presence and seem to actually have the ability to know the mind of the other. Jude is bold and courageous, Noah fearful and timid until they meet Brian and each briefly vies for his attention. "Although Nelson portrays the relationship between the twins, their oneness, as comforting, more often it is claustrophobic — perhaps contributing to the book’s tense, almost breathless feel. One of their favorite games is to divide up the world between them, choosing and bartering the sun or the trees or the oceans. There is the sense that the world is simply not big enough for both of them" ( Lauren Oliver, author and NYT reviewer).
Each of the twins vie for the attention of one of their parents, often reflecting on the rightness or wrongness of actions or beliefs. things get downright competitive between the siblings as the date for art school application approaches. In the chapters after the accident, narrated by Jude, the story has a touch of magical realism when we find the ghost of her grandmother offering pithy advice and directions. One is never sure if it really is a ghost or if it is just the lack of ability to deal with reality. A ghost giving advice sounds corny and gimmicky but it actually works, especially considering Jude's frame of mind after the accident. Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, reminds me "what's magical, sometimes, has deeper roots than reason."
Reviewers don't agree on whether they like some of the writing techniques employed by Nelson, but I really liked them. Noah, who always sees paintings in his head, lets the reader into his head when he tells us what portrait he would paint given a certain situation:
(SELF-PORTRAIT: The Boy Hiding Inside the Boy Hiding Inside the Boy)
(PORTRAIT: Mom and Dad with Screeching Tea Kettles for Heads)
(SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Dives into a Lake of Light)
And Jude, who frequently reads and tries to follow the sayings in the book given to her at Grandma Sweetwine's death, is very aware of their "truths" in her life:
A person in possession of a four-leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences.
To avoid serious illness, keep an onion in your pocket
If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply.
Like so many YA novels I'll Give You the Sun defies categorization. It is definitely a coming-of-age tale where Jude and Noah are able to grow outside their grief to a place where they are whole. It is also a mystery. What happened that caused the twins to break apart? What caused the accident? It is also a beautiful love story between Brian and Noah. The LGBT themes in this book are handled exquisitely.
Of all the YA books I've read this year (over thirty in total) I'll Give You the Sun is by far my favorite. It has depth and texture not often found in the pages of YA novels. ART is the central theme of the book, which is a theme not oft explored in literature aimed at this age group. "The book celebrates art’s capacity to heal, but it also shows us how we excavate meaning from the art we cherish, and how we find reflections of ourselves within it (NYT). It is my hope that teen readers will find themselves reflected in the pages and will be able to celebrate the unique talents they, too, have been given in life.
Even though it is a bit late in the game for a substitution, I am adding I'll Give You the Sun to my list of books being considered for the BHS Mock Printz workshop.
As e.e. cummings said it indeed does take great courage to grow up and become who you really are.
Nelson, Jandy. I'll Give You the Sun. Dial Books, September 2014.
Obtained from my school library.