I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN
By Jandy Nelson
New York: Dial, 2014. $13.64
Family secrets, betrayal, and an all-encompassing love for art serve as the catalysts in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, which introduces readers to estranged twins Noah and Jude. Told in alternating chapters—Noah’s narration takes place when the twins are thirteen, and Jude’s picks up three years later. In Noah’s chapters, we meet an awkward, sensitive boy who’d rather draw than interact with other people—the opposite of his sociable twin, Jude. She’s everything he’s not: self-assured, beautiful, appealing to the opposite sex. It’s slowly revealed when we get to Jude’s chapter that the once inseparable duo is no longer close—something terrible has befallen the Sweetwine family to drive the twins apart.
As younger teens, under the watchful if preoccupied eye of their mother, Noah and Jude both strove to produce art portfolios that would be their ticket to the fancy California School of the Arts—a high school as difficult to get into as any college. Noah loves to draw and paint, never venturing far without his sketchbook. Jude’s art is more secretive: she labors for days on the beach of their Northern California coastal town creating massive sand sculptures of women that she then watches the tide wash away. Fast forward a few years later when the twins are sixteen, and it’s Noah who’s turned his back on both art and his sister, while Jude is now embracing her sculptures with new vigor. She’s determined to move from clay to stone, although she’s never worked with the material before, and finding an instructor is nearly impossible.
Nelson weaves together such intriguing storylines for both twins that it’s hard to read and appreciate one section without being eager to reach the next section. This is a book that begs to be read twice—it’s impossible to catch all the nuances the first time, because the reader is overwhelmed by the strong personalities of Noah and Jude. The rift between them seems both unfathomable and inevitable: only something of epic proportions could drive a wedge between two people so totally in synch with each other their entire lives. As Noah notes several times, he and Jude have always been together, even in the womb. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could easily have turned into a melodramatic teen soap opera, but Nelson creates vivid, three-dimensional characters that are the perfect mix of flawed and empathetic, so that readers have no choice but to fall in love with the battered family.