I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson follows twins Noah and Jude who were once super close, but jealously, mistrust and family tragedy tore them apart. The narrative is interesting with alternate chapters being told by 13 year old Noah and a 16 year old Jude. At 13 Noah was socially isolated, desperate to find his place in a local art school and quietly falling deeply in love with the boy next door. Meanwhile his sister was going through a rebellious phase – having gained herself a reputation as a bit of a daredevil, she was gaining an altogether different reputation hanging out with the popular crowd. Signs of rot were beginning to creep in with the twins becoming distant, mostly due to competing for their parents attention, but could easily slip back into their bond. Three years on and we learn from a 16 year old Jude that they don’t talk. Their roles have completely reversed and laden with guilt, Jude has isolated herself completely while Noah has turned his back on his artwork. Both Noah and Jude are holding on to so many burdens, secrets and lies that it seems almost impossible that they’ll reconcile, however desperately they may want to.
First things first: the writing style is not for everyone. The prose tries frantically to be poetic and profound but, for me, falls flat. My main problem was all the metaphors. So many metaphors! To use a metaphor myself, Nelson’s writing is like a 1st year student who has just learnt about metaphors. Some of the imagery that Nelson uses is genuinely beautiful, but it’s so diluted by all the other superfluous metaphors that you barely notice it after the first dozen pages. The first chapter was from Noah’s POV so I would have understood this from him (as the artist who constantly imagines paintings in his head), but it was soon clear that this is just how Nelson writes, not an attempt to give the twins their own voices. I found this to be very disappointing.
I have read quite a few YA books and I usually find their romantic story lines overblown and unrealistic but I felt that I’ll Give You the Sun took this to the next level and actually made me deeply uncomfortable. The two main characters meet the loves of their lives at the ages 13 and 16 and it’s so intense. There is a particular scene with Noah and Brian where Noah’s mum walk in on them that made me feel a bit ick, bearing in mind that they were 13 years old at the time – still children in my mind, not young adults. I thought this was a shame as I did really like Noah and Brian’s relationship and the slow build up, but it seemed as though Nelson suddenly hit the accelerator and it got way too fast way too quickly.
The ending also got the accelerator treatment. Perhaps too much time was spent on all the damn metaphors but the last chapter was incredibly rushed. Incredibly vicious lies and actions (and sabotages) are revealed and forgiven in the space of the same page and this just didn’t ring true at all. It didn’t make sense for characters who were previously quite sensitive and brooding to be like “ach well shit happens” (paraphrasing obvs).
All that said, I honestly didn’t completely hate this book. The characters are really unique and well imagined. The image of a tortured artist may be a bit of a well-worn cliché but they did feel authentic in the book. I also liked the plot and the story arc up until the very end for the reasons above. I thought that the way that the story was split between Noah and Jude at different times was really clever as you were getting this fragmented story which worked well with the overall concept of each twin having their own half of the story and misunderstanding/assumptions about the other. So it’s not a complete write off, and if you like a bizarre writing style you might actually really love this book, many people do if Goodreads is anything to go on.
If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you think. I’m also interested if anyone else has the same issues as me with romance and sex in YA novels?