The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

It's Pretty, But Is It Art? (Review: I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson)

I’ll Give You The Sun
Jandy Nelson
Walker 2015

Noah and Jude are twins, linked in that ineffable way that twins so often seem to be.  Inseparable for their childhood, things start to change as they get older and I’ll Give You The Sun tells their story from two points in time and alternating perspectives: Noah at thirteen and Jude at sixteen.  Hugely talented artists, we see them as they compete and negotiate, taking nothing off the table – not the moons, the ocean, the stars… not even their mother.  As we read their wildly different realities it quickly becomes clear that they are telling their story from opposing sides of a terrible tragedy and that, for all their trading of the world and everything in it, there is far more at stake than the sun.

Noah’s narrative voice is strikingly resonant and entirely unique.  An artist, his world is a painting made real, a kaleidoscopic whirlwind from the palette of a mad painter, swirled through with emotion and confusion, ambition and longing.  Struggling with worn down truths and surprising new edges, not least the boy next door who gives him whole new universes, Noah longs for his sister even as she drifts from his reach.  He is a character that is extraordinarily alive and his battle with himself is shot through with moments of sheer joy that will lift reader’s hearts even as his world darkens.

Seemingly the less talented twin Jude, in the three years between Noah’s narration and hers, has changed from the punchy, adventure seeking, rebellious sister that Noah watched with such awe and dread.  Instead, she lives in a world that has been muted and drained of colour.  Everything she touches seems to crumble and she seems haunted by what might be an angry ghost or what might be her own suffocating conscience. She’s a sculptor, encased in her own stone prison, endlessly reaching for a brother she no longer recognises nor is sure she deserves. Her grief and wearisome guilt is tangible on every page yet so is her latent passion and she’s a fascinating character to get to know.

In fact, I’ll Give You The Sun is filled with fascinating characters, all of whom are beautifully drawn by Nelson’s unique hand.  Interweaving the story of Noah and Jude is a father who comes into focus differently depending on whose eyes view him; an erratic, all-consuming mother; a dead, yet surprisingly vocal grandmother; a boy with a face like a cracked mirror and a bowler pitching meteorites.  All are compelling although if there is one weakness in the book it is the twins’ father, who is seen so differently by each of his children that he never entirely comes into focus for the reader.

The writing, as with Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, is exceptional.  Weird and truly wonderful, her prose lifts from each page and is vivid, visceral and lush, allowing the reader to transcend the basic plot and envelop themselves in a world that is a splurge of winding words and heavy metaphor. It shouldn’t work, particularly the level to which that heavy metaphor is used in each and every sentence, but it does.  Magical, yet real, readers will find themselves entranced by this imagining of traded suns and grandmother’s who float by propelled only by magenta parasols.

While Nelson, as with her debut, riffs on sex, death, life, love, lust and identity – and does so with thought-provoking aplomb – what I’ll Give You The Sun is really about is the intangible relationship between twins: the endless push and pull, ebb and flow of two distinct hearts wrestling for ownership of a shared soul.  It is fascinating, different and brilliant.  For lovers of the gorgeous madness of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle and the billowing prose of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars this is surely a must read.  For everyone else, if you love words and those who use them beautifully, this is your book of the year. Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who spent her morning stroll along the beach searching for red sea glass and sand dollars, so thanks for that Jandy Nelson.  You can read her equally glowing review of The Sky Is Everywhere here. I'll Give You The Sun is available now. Thank you to Walker Books for providing us with a copy of this title to review.


Angiegirl said…
Just lovely, Sya.
What a great review! I'm so glad that you loved this book as much as I did. So beautiful.
Krystianna said…
I'm glad to see that you found this one to be enjoyable. I read it a while ago and absolutely adored it. I'm a huge fan of We were Liars as well, but I have yet to check out Andrew Smith. Great review! :)
Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian
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