“This is how it all begins. With Zephyr and Fry – reigning neighborhood sociopaths – torpedoeing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.”
Now, technically Jandy Nelson’s Printz and Stonewall Book Award-winning I’ll Give You the Sun isn’t speculative fiction. There’s a dusting of the fantastic in the form of ghostly visitations that may or may not be a symptom of insanity, but other than that this book is firmly rooted in realism. We don’t typically do realism in these parts, but this book is just too scrumptious not to share with y’all. Jude and her twin brother, Noah, used to be inseparable, despite the fact that they were very, very different. The hard-surfing and cliff-jumping Jude likes to wear dark lipstick and swing her Rapunzel locks in the faces of the neighborhood boys, while the painfully shy and strange Noah sees the world as an explosion of art and doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands. Something happens in their thirteenth year that smashes a wedge into their formerly close relationship, or rather, a whole bundle of somethings that unfolds as we alternate between Noah’s perspective at thirteen years old and Jude’s perspective three years later.
First things first, Nelson’s writing is like a lightening bolt to the brain. It’s electrifying and acrobatic and thoroughly, thoroughly addictive. Let’s just look at this little snippet:
“All six-thousand hippopotamus pounds of Fry dive for my ankles. Sorry, this is not happening. It just isn’t. I hate the water, prone as I am to drowning and drifting to Asia. I need my skuill in one piece. Crushing it would be like taking a wrecking ball to some secret museum before anyone ever got to see what’s inside it.
So I grow. And grow, and grow, until I head-butt the sky. Then I count to three and go freaking berserk, thanking Dad in my mind for all the wrestling he’s forced me to do on the deck, to-the-death matches where he could only use one arm and I could use everything and he’d still pin me because he’s thirty feet tall and made of truck parts.”
This is Noah’s perspective, which never once loses linguistic steam for the entire entire narrative. Nelson’s accomplishment in writing a narrative through the eyes of an artist makes for a phantasmagoric read. Jude’s perspective, while not necessarily infused with the imaginative fireworks of Noah’s, is still beautifuly quirky, what with her obsession with her grandmother’s “Bible” of superstitions and regular visits with said deceased old biddy. Nelson accomplishes what so few writers who split time between narrators seem to be able to, which is namely having two radically distinct yet equally rich voices tell one conjoined story.
The ways in which these two voices are woven together to create one story in two disjointed (in a good way) parts is masterful. While I will admit that I enjoyed Noah’s perspective the most, I still fully enjoyed my page time with Jude. I am not entirely sure if the reader was meant to predict what was going on with their mother LONG before Noah does, the fact that I did so didn’t deter me from enjoying the unraveling disaster. Because really, there’s no getting around that this book is about the effects of a disaster on a family, and different mini disasters that led to it, and the intractable guilt that each family member feels for something that was beyond their control. Horrible things happen thanks to horrible but often understandable actions by the characters; all of the moral simplicity that certain snooty authors tend to slander realm of YA writing with is absent here, and is just one of the things that makes this book such a knock-out.
HOWEVER. I will say that that Nelson dropped the ball a bit with the ending; after spending hundreds of pages building layer upon layer of deception mired in moral grayness and devastation, everything turned out a little too sweetly. I know that this is not THE REAL WORLD and is actually a work of FICTION, but I couldn’t help but get yanked out of my immersive adoration of this book by the sense that NOBODY would be that forgiving. After all the backstabbing and heartbreak, everyone just kind of held hands and hugged and said “all good, love ya!” It felt a bit as though Nelson took us from the realm of artfully complex to overly sentimental and neat with the conclusion. I forgive her for it, but it prevented me from being as 100% in love with the book as I was for the first 3/4 or whatever.
The verdict: this book is pretty incredible. I cried for roughly half of it. So just, you know, keep that in mind.
For music let’s go with The Beatles “Across the Universe” for Noah’s star watching times with Brian <3 <3 <3.
Where I got it: the library