Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

As a high school librarian, I am probably in the minority when it comes to loving Young Adult Realistic Fiction. Meaning, I don't love the genre. There are exceptions, sure, but generally speaking my brain has a hard time relating to the (forgive me) sometimes shallow plights of teens, which are often the epicenter of such novels. I'll Give You the Sun is one of those exceptions. I started reading this on the day Congress made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states (which deserves a celebratory post all its own), appropriate given some of the story's content.  

The chapters switch off from the perspective of two twin siblings: Noah ages 13-14 and Jude at age 16. Right off the bat Noah gets bullied for being perceived as gay, which he is, but refuses to admit to anyone except his sketchpad. Jude is heterosexually promiscuous, her mom often saying, "Don't be that girl." The siblings have an inexplicable bond with each other and are both artists in their own right, striving to get admitted to a prestigious art school; however, the competition for their parents' attention and subsequent vindictive behavior toward each other creates a rift that only deepens after a family tragedy occurs. 

The focus on magic objects and superstitions, shapeshifting family dynamics and secrets that produce misplaced cruelty, coming to terms with the fact that your parents lead lives you don't know about, and loving someone who says "no one can know" were all themes that hit home, a little too nostalgically at times. 

What I love about this book is the poetic language and metaphorical images Jandy Nelson weaves seamlessly throughout the novel (something I loved about her first novel, The Sky is Everywhere, as well) and that the characters are way more evolved than a lot of realistic fiction novels on the YA spectrum. What I loved the most, though, was a repeated life motto echoed throughout: "Embrace the mystery."

Interconnectedness and the ever-present Universe Theory proving itself again and again in my own life felt akin with many of the more mysterious details of this novel that occurred while reading the story. Here are some "for instances"...

Jude has conversations with her dead grandmother, whom she claims to see and describes her fashionable outfits in great detail. The day after I started reading this book I was driving down Western Avenue when an elderly woman at a bus stop caught my eye. She was decked out in neon shades of green, but what made freak out was how remarkably she looked like my deceased grandmother, who has been gone for 15 years!

Later that week, my friend Shannon invited our friend Sean and me to a free pottery workshop. Having not played with clay since I took a 3D art class senior year of high school, I jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty (I failed miserably, just like in high school, but it nevertheless got my brain thinking in new ways, as experimenting with art is apt to do). In the book, Jude has to graduate to working with a master stone cutter because her clay sculptures keep shattering (which she blames on a ghost).

There is mention of a Ouija Board on more than one occasion, which is one of the only childhood artifacts that has consistently moved with me to and been on display in various apartments. And while reading this book, my boyfriend (that may be the first mention of him on this blog due to my embarrassing hiatus from writing regularly) and I discovered we harbored a mutual fascination with learning about the world of Tarot cards, which inspired him to buy a deck and a how-to book. 

And finally there is the theory one of the characters refers to as "split-aparts," a term apparently coined by Plato: 

“So Plato talked about these beings that used to exist that had four legs and four arms and two heads. They were totally self-contained and ecstatic and powerful. Too powerful, so Zeus cut them all in half and scattered all the halves around the world so that humans were doomed to forever look for their other half, the one who shared their very soul. Only the luckiest humans find their split-apart, you see.”

What's remarkable is that with all this talk in the news about same-sex marriage finally being recognized by law, I rediscovered and started listening to "Origin of Love" from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" on repeat. Watch the video clip below? Look familiar? (If not, refer to italicized quote above.)

Love is love. Read this book.