I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
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, at sixteen, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways…
— From the book jacket of I’ll Give You the Sun
I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of twins, Noah and Jude (or NoahandJude, as they often refer to themselves). Both are incredibly talented young artists–Noah draws, Jude sculpts–destined for the prestigious art school in town. When their mother is tragically killed, the twins drift further and further apart, not just from each other, but from the life they once had.
Each chapter alternates not only points of view between Noah and Jude, but also the timeline in which events happen. Noah’s chapters lead up to tragedy, while Jude’s deal with the aftermath. Through each point of view we get a sense of the characters’ personalities and who they were before their mother’s death, and who they’ve become because of it. It allows us to see the stark contrast of how each character is dealing, or not dealing, with their grief.
Noah’s chapters are a swirl of color and description, punctuated by self-portrait ideas, bordering at times on almost manic in tone. Through Noah’s eyes, we see him drawing constantly and stealing away to spy on art classes. We watch as he falls for the new boy next door, Brian–a blossoming romance that Brian insists they keep secret. It is something Noah struggles with as he watches Brian flirt with other girls. And we see from his point of view the girl Jude is growing into–the girl who cliff-dives, wears lipstick, and would rather hang out at the beach with her friends, kissing boys. She’s becoming the girl that is growing apart from the brother she’s been inseparable from since birth–the girl who will eventually plan what Noah sees as the ultimate betrayal.
Jude’s chapters, set three years later, after her mother’s tragic death, are dark and lonely, littered with commandments from her grandmother’s “bible” of folk wisdom, old wives’ tales, and even some of Jude’s own made-up conventions for luck. Instead of lipstick and dresses, Jude now hides within hoodies to cover herself. She’s boycotted boys, and it seems her only friend now is the spirit of her late grandmother who visits her regularly. That is, until she meets a mysterious boy who challenges her idea of a boycott and the sculptor who will help her create the art that will appease the angry spirit of her mother who keeps breaking all her work. Through Jude’s point of view, we see the twins have completely switched roles– Noah is now the boy playing sports, cliff-diving, and hanging out at parties with the popular kids. And he no longer draws or makes art of any kind. The twins have grown so distant in three years, his presence is rarely felt within Jude’s chapters.
As you progress through each timeline, the stories and characters weave their way together in an emerging view of the full story. It’s complicated and twisted and heartbreaking and beautiful all at once.
While it was done very well, there were times where I wasn’t the biggest fan of the narrator/timeline switch. Certain chapters, as you get further into the story, went on for 60+ pages, making it hard to transition back to the other timeline– I had almost forgotten where the other story left off. However, the stark contrast between the two stories more than made up for my momentary struggle to catch up. The whole tone of each story changed between the two characters–Noah’s chapters were beautiful, bright summer days and starry nights filled with life and joy and romance, mirroring life with their mother. Jude’s chapters are filled with darkness, anger, loneliness, and a persistent fog that obscures everything– much like life now that their mother is gone.
If Mom died, the sun would go out. Period.
— from I’ll Give You the Sun, page 20
Because of some alcohol use and not-too-graphic sexual content, it would be suitable for high school and beyond. I definitely would (and will) recommend it. It’s a beautiful tragic love story, and not just the romantic kind of love. It’s a story of family, forgiveness, second chances, and following your heart–wherever it may lead you.
Learn more about Jandy Nelson