I recently discovered the young adult novels of Jandy Nelson: The Sky Is Everywhere and the more recent I’ll Give You the Sun. And loved them.
The Sky Is Everywhere is the story of 17-year-old Lennie, whose sister recently died. Torn by grief, she’s drawn to her sister’s boyfriend. She’s also drawn to the new guy in town, a fellow musician. So which does she choose? Who is right for her? We travel with Lennie as she journeys toward healing.
I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of twins Jude and Noah. It alternates between Noah’s point of view at age 13 and Jude’s at age 16—a timespan in which their lives have flipped. It has much more of a mystery element to it than Sky does, as readers discover what happened and why the twins’ personalities seem to have switched places: from isolated and daredevil to daredevil and isolated.
Both explore similar elements: disjointed sibling relationships, betrayal, the search for forgiveness, the power of the arts, absent mothers, supportive grandmothers (even after death), and otherworldliness entwined in everyday life. Both were page-turners. Both had me reading as nonstop as life would allow to get to the end. Not that I wanted the end. I simply enjoyed being there.
While Sky was an entertaining read, though, Sun floored me. My reaction was wow. First, the why? element grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. Second, the frank descriptions of Noah’s sexuality were so…frank.
And when I say frank, I mean frank. Are the scenes realistic? Without being a gay teenage boy, I’d say yes. Do they go too far for a young adult novel? Maybe. Either way, the author was brave to lay it all on the line, and it seems to be a gamble that’s paying off.
Sky also explores sexuality, but here I found the references to male body parts crass and unnecessary; they were where I cringed and moved on. And let’s just say I won’t be encouraging my nearly teenage daughter to read either of these books quite yet; they’re definitely for an older audience.
With an MFA in poetry and an MFA in writing for children and young adults, these were Nelson’s first young adult novels. I say bravo and look forward to more.
Have you read these books? What do you think?
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