I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
Published September 16, 2014
Amidst the captivating whirlwind of plot twists, angsty love interests and misunderstandings, it’s time to redirect our attention towards the writing style. It’s often subdued to balance out the chaotic plot of the story but in Jandy Nelson’s novel, I’ll Give You The Sun, the writing thrives alongside the story and adds a whole new dimension to it. Nelson’s writing style not only sets a refreshing atmosphere but it’s also used to complement and highlight the characters’ artistic flair. While the metaphor-heavy style may not be for everyone, it definitely gave a more remarkable reading experience for those who enjoy it.
I’ll Give You The Sun, is a story about twins that’s told with an alternating timeline and perspective, in which Noah narrates about the past and Jude narrates about the future. The writing style brings out Noah and Jude’s distinctive colours; Noah with a clear artistic vision struggling with societal expectations and Jude, a self-described “broken blob” who ironically and earnestly tries to care of everyone around her. Noah’s passion for art really shows through in how his perspective translates what are seemingly mundane events into otherworldly scenarios bursting with vivid imagery and colour. It has that whimsical and unadulterated playfulness, a quality that most of us tend to push in the back of their minds as we grow older.
“He floated into the air high above the sleeping forest, his green hat spinning a few feet above his head. In his hand was the open suitcase and out of it spilled a whole sky of stars.”
Meanwhile, Jude’s narrative shines through with her embracing her tendency to overthink things and letting her mind wander off to the most bizzare worst case scenarios. One of my favourite scenes is, is her first interaction with her art mentor:
” He takes a drag, exhales a long gray stream of smoke, then gestures at the giants. ‘I am like them, Everyday I think to myself, it happen, finally I become the rock I carve.’
‘Me too,’ I blurt out. ‘I’m made of stone too. I thought that exact thing the other day. I think my whole family is. There’s this disease called FOP–‘
‘No, no, no you are not made of stone,’ he interrupts. ‘You do not have this disease called FOP. Or any disease called anything'”
Similarly, her narrative also uses an unconventional way of describing certain things using metaphors. Although, it’s more subdued and quirky compared to Noah’s, this still shows that despite having a difficult relationship with their mom, Jude is still influenced by her passion for art. This implies that their past experiences and influences shaped their personality quirks and how they see things. It doesn’t seem like the characters are portrayed or fleshed out the way they are for plot convenience; rather, they actually seem like real people.
The way Nelson describes people and their emotions are so unconventional and refreshing, which complements the fact that the twins are both outliers in their own way. For the majority of the book, she doesn’t use adjectives to explain how they’re feeling. The characters also don’t blatantly seek for empathy from the readers. Instead, Nelson lays things out in a way that allows the readers to interpret and feel the emotions themselves. These are the moments when I’m most impressed with her writing; it’s simple but it carries a lot of emotional strength. Nelson’s writing is quite strong without it sounding too aggressive: it’s phrased so beautifully, and at times it’s so ironic that it catches you off-guard.
“The right-handed twin tells the the truth, the left-handed twin tells lies.
(Noah and I are both left-handed)
He’s looking down at his feet intently. I don’t know what he’s thinking and it makes my bones feel hollow.”
I also appreciate the honesty in Nelson’s writing, such that it doesn’t over-dramatize the way people act. She describes things as is, and this is only dramatized during turning points and when character development is needed without losing the emotional impact on the readers:
“There are times when he’s slumped in a chair, lying on his bed, curled up on the couch, and I wave my hand across his face and he doesn’t even blink. It’s as if he’s gone blind. Where is he during those times? What’s he suspect that inside the impenetrable fortress of conventionality he’s become, there’s one crazy ass museum.”
This helps maintain the quirky tone of the story. It still creates a lot of tension, yet the characters are not always in this dark and heavy mindset which can become overwhelming over time. This prevents the atmosphere from feeling monotonous. In fact, the drastic change between the quirky and the more tension-filled scenes create more impact.
With this style of writing, the way they deal with their issues could have easily been romanticized, however, it was handled fairly well. The story felt grounded, despite the whimsical narrative of the characters. More often than not, the writing style is overlooked, but it can strongly impact the experience of reading a story, as I’ll Give You the Sun demonstrates.