Noah and Jude are twins and each tell their stories: however Noah’s narration is set three years before Jude’s, and in the intervening time, a terrible tragedy has hit their family. Their’s is a family “locked up in secrets and lies” with each twin knowing pieces of their story, without realizing that between them they have the whole picture, and because we have the privilege of being in both their heads, we can see what they, at least initially, can’t.
This has got to be one of the buzziest YA book around at the moment, and when I first started reading it I was astonished, staggered by the sheer brilliance of the writing. The twins are so luminously drawn through such precise writing, that I could feel the author burnishing and burnishing each phrase till it shone. Noah’s narration is embellished with his visual images expressed as paintings “SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Rowing Madly Back Through Time” and Jude’s has excerpts from her ‘bible’ – a collection of her dead grandmother’s kooky wisdom: “A broken heart is an open heart.” Yes, I was a little put off that everyone in this novel is beautiful, talented and smart, but they are also charming and their artistic sensibility makes them glow.
But it’s when we move to the post-tragedy account that sadly, the novel takes a turn for the predictable. While the writing is still beautifully crafted the whole way through, the plot signals its intent with little of the words’ subtlety. It droops a bit in the middle too, as Noah and Jude take more time than is probably necessary to reach their respective and joint resolutions.
A couple of other things. I really liked the descriptions of the characters’ artistic processes. As a hapless artist myself, I’ve no idea whether or not painters and sculptors work in this way but it felt authentic. Also the dynamics of the relationship between the twins, and between them and their parents made me suck my breath in a little with recognition.
And a trendlet alert! Hot English guys seem to be a bit of a thing. We have one here, though for no apparent reason – his presence in Lost Cove, California far from the shores of Blighty is never explained, which seems particularly odd when he is a homeless 16 year old – and there is one in Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar. It’s our sexy English accents and dissolution that drive teens crazy you know, though maybe not our jaggedy teeth.
Now I’m going to venture into spoiler territory here, because I have a pretty significant beef with the latter part of this book, so click away if you (like me) prefer to read a book without having other people’s fingerprints all over it. While we wait for people to move along, here is a picture of some sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, which look a bit like how I envisioned Guillermo Garcia’s work.
OK, we’re in spoiler territory here, so walk away if you don’t want to get a hint at the ending of this book.
In Ruth Graham’s somewhat controversial Slate article about Against YA, she complains about the ending of YA novels always being satisfying. And I have to say in this instance I agree with her – and I think teen readers might do too. Really the ending of Sun is just toooo perfect. Not just ends tied up, but these are exquisite ends, tied perfectly with lashings of red ribbons. It’s not that these kids’ lives went off track for a few years and now they’re finding their way back – that would feel like a reasonable resolution. No, it’s that at the age of 16, they have both found their perfect match and the perfect expression of their art. Really? That’s it? For the rest of their lives, there’s nothing else to strive for? This just doesn’t feel like life, and Ms. Nelson had got me so mesmerized with her skills that I wanted the complexity and misshapenness you get with that, There is no ambiguity here whatsoever – even the mystery of the irritating parrot next door has to have a solution!
So overall, is I’ll Give You the Sun worth reading? An unqualified yes – I could easily put my irritation with the somewhat glib plotting aside and just bathe in the glories of the writing.