My friend Caitlin an I seem to have a tradition of buying each other books for our birthdays. It’s an unspoken rule, almost, and I can’t remember when it began, but at some point we stopped asking each other for recommendations and just started buying novels as gifts instead.
It’s the best.
Anyway, for my birthday in 2017, she bought me Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. I’d never heard of it, but she assured me it was her partner’s favourite book, and now it was hers too, and she hoped I’d enjoy it.
It’s possibly the most cheerful looking book on my shelf. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it looked so enticing and exciting I was keen to get started.
However, the brightness of the book did also simultaneously disarm me, and I began reading with care and caution. I felt slightly dubious; concerned that I was starting something that would be rife with cliches and frustratingly immature attitudes. Would there be substance to this novel which looked like it was teetering between fun and cute and childish?
It’s a Young Adult novel, which I have absolutely nothing against, but there were the odd moments where it made me feel a little old; I felt I was looking back at teenage lust and angst, and I was sometimes very much aware that I was reading the thoughts and experiences of someone over a decade younger than me (ouch). There were some slightly irritating moments; Noah’s consistent habit of ‘painting’ each scene in his head feels like he is trying to make it really over-obvious that he is an artist, and a quirky one at that.
On occasion I did feel like it was trying too hard to be ‘arty’ and out there; I didn’t feel I was reading the story of the average teen and, were I still a teen myself, it might have frustrated me. That, or I’d feel my life was incredibly boring.
The more and more I read it, however, the more I fell in love with it, and when I closed the last page I felt sad that Noah and Jude wouldn’t be a part of my life every night after that.
This book deals with teenage romance, death, art, creativity and, significantly, depression and sexuality. It explores all of the big questions young adults want to ask, and speaks to the reader on the same level, both teen and adult alike. There is no patronising explanation of ‘why some men love men and some men love women’ or ‘why losing your virginity isn’t always romantic’.
It deals with loss and grief and mental health brilliantly; with sensitivity, creativity and honesty, which I don’t really remember being the case in any books I read when I was a teen.
If you’re an adult, like me, and thinking of reading this book, I’d say to you: don’t be put off by the YA genre. It’s worth a read and has some beautiful moments and poignant messages and is still relatable and emotional. I certainly didn’t feel like I was reading a YA novel the entire time (I actually had to double check that it was YA, so there you are.)
If you are a teen, I’d definitely recommend this book to you. It’s a powerful read, explores so much of life, and evokes some beautiful imagery. It will transport you and educate you and you will truly love the characters.
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