I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a beautiful coming-of-age story centered on twins Jude and Noah Sweetwine throughout their formative, adolescent years. Written in the points of view of both people, Nelson makes readers feel incredibly connected to the twins. Her ability to express the life-changing power of love, loss, grief, and art is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
The combination of their superstitious upbringing by their mother and grandmother and their intertwining experiences with first love make for a captivatingly unique story. They both have imperfect first experiences with love which might just have been exactly what they needed. When Noah, supposedly their mother’s favourite and the more talented of the two, doesn’t get into art college, but Jude does, they have an epic falling-out and set out on detached paths of self-discovery. After their mother dies in a tragic car accident, they become even more disconnected. Noah completely cuts art out of his life and becomes obsessed with the perfect cliff dive and starts to come to terms with the fact that he’s gay. For Jude, we see how three years later, the incidents around the time of her mother’s death haunt her efforts at school. Ghosts are a common appearance in this novel; not only the twins’ exceedingly superstitious grandmother, who makes herself known constantly to Jude, but also their mother. Jude is convinced that she’s returned from the dead to ruin Jude’s attempts at sculpture.
We as readers quickly learn that their art is what divides them but also what unites them. Nelson so graphically describes the artistic process that you can feel the sand in between Jude’s hands as she makes her sand angels and the charcoal between Noah’s fingers as he sketches the inner-workings of his overactive imagination.
Although Nelson depicts their relationship as calming, more often than not it is almost constraining — conceivably contributing to the book’s agitated feel. One of their favorite pastimes is to divvy up the world between them, bartering over the sun or the trees or the oceans or the stars. You get the sense that the world is simply not large enough for the both of them. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, then this is not the novel for you. Nelson’s almost lyrical writing style and constant changes in time demand readers’ attention for the novel’s entirety. It can be argued that these jumps back in forth through time make the story convoluted but I couldn’t disagree more. They make their narratives even more compelling by letting us see little shreds of information from both their pasts and presents that let us paint their pictures in our minds.