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

It’s been months since I read this, and I still can’t get over how much I loved this book. Rarely have I felt that a book has captured so fully what it is I love in character, in story, in structure, and in themes. I felt like I’ll Give You the Sun was written especially for me.

Published: September 16, 2014 by Dial/Penguin
ISBN: 9780803734968
Source: ARC from publisher; purchased hardcover Baker & Taylor
Genre: young adult contemporary, lgbtq
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.i'll give you the sun

My thoughts: I know I said this novel feels like it was written especially for me, which means, it might not be for everyone. Which is okay. Novels that have broad appeal are sometimes boring.

My absolute favorite element of this novel is the structure. Told in alternating first-person perspective of twins Noah and Jude, it’s not a simple back-and-forth linear timeline. Noah begins when they are thirteen, as the onset of adolescence creates fissures in their close relationship, and they each betray one another, breaking their bond completely. Jude’s section begins when they are sixteen, and tells how they reconnect. Each twin’s sections are long, rather than short, back-and-forth chapters typical of alternating first person in young adult literature.

I was in awe of how Nelson managed to weave in details of two timelines, foreshadowing without revealing too much as to spoil some of the later plot points.

Some readers may find that the language and style of writing overpowers the story, or doesn’t fit with the character. Noah in particular is a 13-year-old boy, and I do have trouble believing that even the most sensitive and well-read 13-year-old boy would use some of his phrases. I just don’t care. That’s how beautiful I find the prose.

In Noah’s section, he frequently pauses to describe an idea for a painting, with a title and an image. In Jude’s section, she is often referring to entries in her grandma’s book of aphorisms. These details were not only startling imagery, but furthered character development.

Family relationships are complicated. Few young adult novels focus on sibling relationships, so I’ll Give You the Sun is a welcome treat. The nuanced and complex relationship between Noah and Jude is painted with such detail. There is love and hate between them, as well as competition and compassion. Both Noah and Jude also have troubled relationships with their parents, and these conflicts were important to the plot of the story. Even more rare, the parents had their own personalities, their own lives, their own conflicts and regrets and weren’t just there to facilitate the plot around Noah and Jude. The family dynamics portrayed in the story were so true to life, but also well-orchestrated, which is a difficult balance to strike. The plot is so layered, so interconnected, I was in awe of how the pieces of the puzzle of this family all fit together.

Both Noah and Jude have a romantic relationship in the story, and both stirred my heart. Noah meets a boy who seems absolutely magical, but of course it’s more complicated than it should be. Jude swears off boys, and that red-red lipstick she loved so much, after an unfortunate first sexual experience that was not entirely consensual, but then when she meets an older artist boy with a leather jacket and an accent, can she resist the pull she feels for him?

This is a story I will revisit again—I’ve already checked out the audiobook so I can experience it again.

Recommended for fans of: This book would be a perfect fit for fans of Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. Art is integral to both stories, both use multiple first person perspectives in an effective way, and both have startling poetic imagery.

Second opinions:

Alexa Loves Books: “I’ll Give You the Sun made me feel like I was watching color slowly fill in a black and white sketch, combining beauty and whimsy in a novel that completely swept me up.”

Novel Sounds: “Then: Noah daydreams with paint stains on his fingers while all the boys in California gets tangled up in Jude’s hair. Now: Noah’s world goes from vivid colors to black & white and is almost soulsuckingly normal while Jude has a big heart and pocketful of charms with good intentions. The journey from then to now is like the most important kind of journeys: full of bone-deep love that hurts, grief that pulls you within, and truths so sharp that you shield yourself.”

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