|Yes, it is still winter in Maine. Give me the sun on fresh snow, and I'm blissfully happy.|
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson won the 2015 Printz Award for young adult fiction. This literary novel set in Northern California explores artistic creativity and sibling rivalry. I had hesitations about reading a twin book since authors tend to treat them like circus freaks. There was also a dead mom, which has become nearly a cliché in YA. Nelson, however, has an original take on these tropes.
The narrative alternates between thirteen-year-old Noah and his twin sister, Jude, three year later. In between the twin narratives, their mother's death pushes their lives in opposite directions, alienating the once close siblings. Jude sounds more like a typical teenager with her sassy quips and amusing superstitions while Noah has a more quirky perspective. He sees emotional moments as paintings and can't express his true feelings in words. The duality of sibling rivalry versus loyalty made for a powerful dynamic.
I'll Give You the Sun pushes boundaries for young adult fiction but doesn't quite break them. Jude has a crush on her model, who is an art college student from the UK. Oscar flirts back because he believes that sixteen-year-old Jude is his age. She is young enough to believe that her "soul mate" will overcome his long history of substance abuse and womanizing. The resolution did at least reinforce that their age gap would be seriously problematic.
The amorous feelings between Noah and his new best friend were more age appropriate for a young adult audience. It was wonderful to see a homosexual relationship treated as a romance instead of as a tragedy, although there were barriers and no easy resolution.
The gorgeous writing captured the emotional intensity of the teen years:
"I didn't know you could get buried in your own silence."
"How can I hate him and wish I were more like him at the same time?"
"This guy makes me feel like I'm actually here, unhidden, seen."
"I feel pinned to this awful moment like a dead insect."
"In one split second I saw everything I could be, everything I want to be. And all that I'm not."
"I...watch him work, watch him rake his hands, dripping with wet clay, through his hair, over and over again, until it's not clear if he's making the sculpture or if the sculpture is making him."This beautiful novel spoke to me as an artist. I could see glimmers of my teen self in Jude and in Noah, who define themselves by their art. I was lucky to have had wonderful mentors and an artist mom, who is still very much alive and not haunting me. I would have loved this edgy book as a teenager and I enjoyed it as an adult too.
Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought a hardcover copy at Bull Moose in Brunswick and was not compensated for my review. The charcoal life drawing is one of mine from high school.