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I’ll Give You the Sun Review

This article contains spoilers for I’ll Give You the Sun.

It has been nearly seven years since Jandy Nelson published her award-winning novel I’ll Give You the Sun. It is still as poignant and breath-taking now as it was when it was first released. Nelson’s use of two perspectives and two different time periods mean that you cannot help but be drawn into this coming-of-age world.

I’ll Give You the Sun is Nelson’s second novel, and it has garnered numerous accolades for the author. In 2015, Nelson won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the Banks Street Josette Frank Award, among numerous other awards, nominations and top ten lists. I’ll Give You the Sun has undoubtedly left its mark on the book community.

Nelson’s use of the duality of twins, Noah and Jude, to create an interwoven story where each twin holds the answer to the other’s plight is a major reason these awards are so well earned.

Nelson splits her story between the perspectives of thirteen-year-old Noah and sixteen-year-old Jude. Allowing an alternating view into the twins’ world and the effect that their mother’s unexpected death plays on the family. We watch the twins go from being NoahandJude to being Noah and Jude. No longer the inseparable twins from Noah’s chapters but rather two isolated characters who share a tragedy in Jude’s.

As teenagers, all you want to do is relate to the characters in the stories you read. From a young age, Noah has known that he is gay and struggles greatly to hide this from those around him. From a secret relationship with the boy-next-door to dating a girl, Noah tries his hardest throughout the novel to keep his sexuality a secret from his family while discovering who he truly is.

“Do guys normally stand so close to other guys? I wish I’d paid more attention to these kind of things before.”

Chapter 3, page 104 

However, we learn from Jude’s chapters that she had known this about Noah since they were 13. But it isn’t until her final chapter that we see Noah embrace this part of himself openly. I believe that seeing this representation through the twins’ duality added a depth that would not have been experienced if Nelson had been written through a singular perspective.

“For the record, I knew what was going on between Brian and Noah even if no one else did. All that summer when Noah came home at night from hanging out with him, he draws pictures of NoahandBrian until his fingers were raw and swollen…”

Chapter 4, page 147

These moments where sixteen-year-old Jude brings up a facet of the past that Noah has experienced allows the reader to see through the assumptions they made when they had only seen the events from Noah’s side. It reminds the reader that there is always more at stake than there ever appears to be and softens the harsh lens people often view others with.

On the other hand, Jude struggles with the attention she gets from boys. On the day her mother dies, losing her virginity to an older boy- in a somewhat dubious way- causes Jude to hide away from the world.

You can say no Jude. That’s what he said, but it seemed like he meant the opposite…You can say no. The words rumbled between us. Why didn’t I? It seemed my mouth was filling with sand. Then the whole world filled with it. I didn’t say a thing. Not aloud anyway.”

Chapter 2, page 46

Wearing a mask of baggy clothes, short hair and beanies and swearing off boys, Jude must learn to love herself again and open her life back up to the intimacy that was abused when she was younger. I believe showing this journey through Jude sends an important message to other teenagers struggling and raises awareness of these issues that are still pressed upon society today.

Splitting the story between young Noah and older Jude allows Nelson to weave together an intrinsic world that is in no way as black and white as 13-year-old-old Noah once believed. As the twins grow older, their understanding of the world changes. The struggles the twins go through help to make the characters relatable and give the reader a chance to connect to them through the experiences that they separately went through. This connection the reader feels to the twins is another reason I’ll Give You the Sun performed so well and was only enhanced through Nelson’s choice to write from both perspectives.

Nelson doesn’t shy away from giving her characters imperfections either, such as Jude and Noah’s jealously of each other’s strengths and the lies they have told over the years that come out later in the book. But these imperfections cause the reader to relate to and love the characters more. It shows the world in all its messy and colourful realness, adding depth to this fictional world.

This jealously between the twins begins early in the novel when their mother suggests they apply to CSA, a prestigious art school. It is clear that their mother favours Noah’s art more, and in a fit of anger when it comes time to mail in the applications, Jude only sends through hers.

“You didn’t not get into CSA. What I mean is you didn’t apply that day.” I take a breath and blow out the words from the darkest place in me: “I never mailed your application.”

Chapter 8, page 350

This singular act detonates a chain of reactions throughout the novel that we do not understand the cause of until Jude comes clean. The rejection from CSA destroys Noah’s self-esteem, and he no longer creates art for anyone to see. For Jude, the guilt of destroying her brother’s chance eats her up inside, and her artworks all come out broken and misshapen. Jude comes to believe her mother’s ghost is destroying her work in punishment, which sends her to an artist who has his own secrets regarding their family.

As the reader, we see these reactions take place, but we do not understand until the end of the book that the reason all we have read has happened because of that one moment.

This split between the twins allows Nelson to show and tell just enough to keep the reader engaged. Whilst still revealing secrets and depth to the story in the end when the twins finally bridge the gap that their mother’s death caused.

At the beginning of the story, we see Jude secretly go to a mysterious local artist suffering from immense heartbreak to ask for him to tutor her. All through the studio are reminders of his lost love, but it isn’t until Noah follows Jude one day that we learn that the woman in all of the paintings is actually their mother, who Noah had caught having an affair with the artist. The truth about who this artist might have eventually come out without Noah’s input but having the split perspective of Noah discovering the affair and the relationship that Jude had built with the artist unknowing of his true identity added an intensity to the story that wouldn’t have been there without both twins telling the story.

“Mom is Dearest. She’s the clay woman climbing out of the clay man’s chest. She’s the stone woman he makes again and again and again. She’s the colour-drenched faceless woman in the painting of the kiss. Her body turns and twists and bends and arches facelessly over every inch of the walls in the studio. They were in love. They were split-apart!” 

Chapter 8, page 364

These revelations were made more powerful through Nelson’s split storyline, and I think that there wouldn’t have been the same depth and emotional response from the readers without both parts.

No one will forget I’ll Give You the Sun anytime soon. Getting to read the journey of self-discovery Noah and Jude undertake through the split perspective made the storyline’s intrigue and intensity something different to other novels out there. I’ll Give You the Sun is both a heart-warming and heart-wrenching tale that stays with the reader long after the last page. To quote the last line of the story, it will “remake the world”.

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