Like its cover, Jandy Nelson’s novel — her second, after The Sky Is Everywhere — is a blazing, prismatic explosion of color. In the beginning, male-female twins Noah and Jude are total opposites yet still enmeshed in each other’s lives. Noah is a gifted artist but debilitatingly right-brained — he’s unsure whether he said ”I wish I were a horse” out loud in front of the boy he likes or just thinks he said it. He sees the world with a surrealist’s eye: ”Jude barfs bright blue fluorescent barf all over the table, but I’m the only one who notices.” Unsurprisingly, Noah has a hard time making friends and gets bullied by the local ”surftards.” In her own way, Jude is an artsy weirdo too, having inherited her dead grandmother’s New Agey obsessions, but unlike Noah, she’s able to hide her freak flag behind her Blake Lively-esque good looks. The novel uses an ingenious structure to capture the twins’ devolution: Noah’s narration takes place when they’re 13 and adolescent competition and betrayals are starting to pull them apart, and Jude’s starts when they’re 16, after a trauma has made them unrecognizable to themselves and to each other.
Nelson’s gifts in tackling huge subjects — death, grief, all-consuming love — with humor and gravitas will draw comparisons to the two reigning superstars of non-apocalyptic YA lit, John Green and Rainbow Rowell. But the intensity of her writing stands alone, in good and bad ways. There are times when it’s way too much and even exhausting, but that’s how it should be. Noah and Jude are at an age where synapses aren’t yet settled and emotions burn too hot for comfort. Whether you’re at that age right now or you’ve forgotten what it feels like, I’ll Give You the Sun is that rare, immersive teen novel: To read it is a coming-of-age experience in itself. A-