Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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'll Give You the Sun was at its best on art, showing how artists see the world and describing the fascinating process of sculpting in stone. Art shapes character, propels the plot and is used metaphorically. The twins' art historian mom fostered their passion for creativity, and her spirit haunts them, blurring the line between mourning and the paranormal. My favorite relationship was between Jude and her mentor, a sculptor who challenges her in art and in life. Guillermo Garcia was a nearly mythical character:
"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.

15 comments:

tina said...

Those books that are most personal are often the ones we remember the most.

Rose said...

I can see why this book appealed to you, Sarah. The excerpts are beautifully written. It's still winter here in Illinois, too!

Stacy said...

Sounds really good. I might read this and then pass it on to my older stepdaughter.

(Are dead moms cliche in YA? I hadn't realized.)

Bee said...

Dead mother aside (and at least that did serve the plot), this sounds like a really original novel. I can't think of many YA novels that explore art as plot device/subject matter/way of seeing the world.

By the way, Sarah, your opening photograph is a genius way of illuminating this book title.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, so true about the personal connection.

Rose, winter loves company?

Stacy, I'd love to hear your response to it. You can't throw a stick in the YA section without hitting a dead mom or sometimes a dad. It's a gimmick to allow the MC to do stuff the mom wouldn't allow and I'm tired of it. Nelson does a better job by including the mom as an emotional presence in the novel and developing her character.

Bee, thanks for noticing! It was hard to find a photo to fit a book set in CA.

A Cuban In London said...

The excerpts you quoted are beautiful indeed. I loved how the language conveyed the nuances of the emotions. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Cloudbuster said...

Jandy is pretty amazing and I was so happy she won the Printz. It was well deserved! Great review. I'm so happy you enjoyed the book.

troutbirder said...

In spite of the cold again today I felt warm and smiley. Amazing what a fun little endeavor can do. Thanks for that, Sarah....:)

Unknown said...

Lovely review (as always)! You always add a special touch to your reviews. :)

I loved the writing excerpts you added--sounds like the award was well deserved!

Alyssa

Ellen Booraem said...

Wow. This book sounds so inventive, and wonderful about art. And I do love quirky characters. Great review as always, Sarah.

I'm desolated to admit that, after two books in a row with living parents, my WIP is killing off both parents and foster parents. I apologize in advance.

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, yes, the writing is fabulous. The author has MFAs in poetry and in YA Lit.

Cloudburster, thanks for sharing my review with the author, one of my favorites too.

troutbirder, welcome to the book club! I'm just as pleased to find you here.

Alyssa, thanks! Yes, I was pleased to see a book like this win the Printz.

Ellen, as long as you don't make a habit of it, okay! Anyway, you write MG and I'm not familiar with those trends.

cynthia newberry martin said...

I especially enjoyed the quotes, and your charcoal drawing was a nice addition to the post. At the moment I'm trying to whittle down my TBR stack and so trying to live vicariously through others' reviews. Thanks for this one.

Amanda Summer said...

I like the image of clay laced fingers running through the hair, posing the question of who is creating what?

Is that one of your sketches? Stunning!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stunning review of this book. I adored it, too. Your comments bring it back to me in all its glory and depth. Thank you.

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

And you do art, too! Wonderful.