I remember when I began seeing The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s first novel, around bookshops. I had no idea what it was about, but I wanted it. Badly. The first edition was this beautiful notebook looking thing. It had pages that were drawn on and pages with handwriting scrawled across them. The book itself was representative of the beautiful mess inside. It was about a girl who had recently lost her older sister, and in the aftermath of it, in jarring opposition to the all-consuming grief she was experiencing at the time, found herself falling in love. I was probably about seventeen when I read that book. It’s been a while.
In fact I’d almost forgotten about Jandy Nelson until I started to see her name crop up in blogs again in relation to the book I’m going to talk about today: I’ll Give You The Sun. It won the Printz award this year. I knew the name sounded familiar but it wasn’t until I was home from university for the Easter holiday and I caught sight of The Sky is Everywhere in my bookshelf that I made the connection.
My edition of I’ll Give You the Sun is much more toned down than The Sky is Everywhere, but it’s kept some of the same ‘homemade’ elements that I liked so much. Both the protagonists of the story, twins Noah and Jude are artists so there are pages where the book is paint splattered. Sometimes important quotes are reiterated on a page by themselves in the swooping strokes of a paint brush.
The story happens across two separate time lines. Noah at age thirteen and Jude, age sixteen. The story follows the time before and after the death of their mother in a car accident.
At age thirteen, Noah is a shy kid, a weird kid who gets bullied. He is disconnected from his father and in awe of his mother. He’s an artist and he can’t help but create constant portraits in his mind. He’s utterly in love with a boy called Brian. He’s jealous of his pretty, popular sister and her effortless relationship with their father.
Sixteen year old Jude wants to hide from everyone. Especially boys. She will not go near boys. She carries around a lot of guilt. She thinks her mother’s ghost is angry at her. She is a massive hypochondriac with an encyclopaedic knowledge of disease. She lives by the rules left to her in her grandmother’s ‘bible’ (advice inc: ‘it is very unlucky to fall on your face’ and ‘Nothing curdles love in the heart like a lemon on the tongue.’) She misses her brother who has changed from an artistic boy who loves boys to a popular kid who jumps off cliffs and hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in years.
I’ll Give You the Sun is the book for anyone with a difficult relationship with their sibling (read: anyone who has a sibling). It is a book about the way that siblings can do the best and the worst things to each other. Nelson is unashamed in her character study of these two people and the destructive power of their combined insecurities. She shows unconditional love as a journey. The novel is Noah and Jude’s path back to each other.
When I’m reading young adult fiction as a twenty-two-year-old girl-woman, I can’t help but think about the relationship between myself at the age of the intended audience of this book, and myself now. I could particularly indulge in this in I’ll Give You the Sun because it is so much about the making, breaking and re-making of people. It is about how we are formed through experience, tragedy, art and survival.
It’s pretty great.