I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First off, I just have to say this up front: page 333 cites Brancusi's The Kiss as "one of the most romantic sculptures ever made." So of course, I looked it up.
Let's just say it looked better in my head.
But that's the thing about writing about visual artwork: it can look better in your head. And it should! Loading down a piece of writing with every single detail of a painting or sculpture would bore the reader to tears, but a few lines of slightly vague yet compelling description that appeals to all the senses can do wonders. Jandy Nelson does wonders.
Before I get too far into the discussion of artwork, let me backtrack. This novel is not about artwork, per se. It's about artists--lots of them--and about passion and love and identity. Also, it's a YA novel, so the romances are (of course) over-the-top in the best sort of way: all fireworks and melting insides and desperation and agony (but written in much more eloquent, unique ways that I just described). Nelson accurately captures the essence of quirky teenagers struggling with the fine line between being true to their themselves and using their quirks to alienate themselves and others. She also looks at the idea of "what's allowed" in love and romance, in both teenage and adult life. And she does so with compassion and a narrative that moves at the pace of a skittish colt.
Jude and Noah are teenage twins, competing for their parents' love and the love of the world around them. Noah is the dreamer and the model child; Jude is the rebel. Yet when tragedy strikes, their role reversal could not be more abrupt, and the ways they hurt each other and shame they feel as a result drives the narrative forward with the sort of "what will happen next" urgency of a murder mystery. I enjoyed how the past and present were intertwined by allowing Noah to tell "what happened" and Jude to tell "what is happening," and I was impressed with how Nelson managed to conceal facts from us, the readers, even while the characters themselves knew what had happened.
My only criticisms were that 1) by the end, it felt a bit like "everything plus the kitchen sink;" I feel as though limiting the melodrama of the narrative just a bit, particularly at the end, would have done it a great service, and 2) every loose end tied up a little "too" perfectly. Otherwise, however, it was a quintessential YA novel, perfect for lovers of art, romance, and family drama all rolled into one.
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