I’ll Give You The Sun

Digital Essay

There are few pieces of young adult literature that truly take my breath away. Often times I find that as a twenty-year-old reading young adult novels, many of the themes and messages are so specifically geared toward children between the ages of 11 and 16 that I feel a certain detachment with the story and its characters. While I can still appreciate the novel as a good work of young adult literature it is a real accomplishment when I come across a YA book that I feel can hold its own with the great works of adult literature I have read.

I’ll Give you the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, is one of those rare finds, which really stood apart as a great piece of literature for people of any age. Following the story of a pair of fraternal twins, one boy and one girl, the book focuses on themes such as creativity, discovery, identity, guilt, grief, sexuality, individuality, and of course, love.

The true beauty of I’ll Give You the Sun is in the authenticity of the characters, which Nelson creates. Noah and Jude are so eccentric and unique; their personalities pull the reader into their stories and allow deep connections to be formed with them as characters.

Noah’s story focuses on his dealing with the fact that he is gay and what that means for his life and his identity. Nelson creates such a beautiful story of his homosexual relationship with his neighbor, a quirky kid who collects meteorites for fun. Falling in line with other current YA authors, Jandy Nelson includes this homosexual romance and does a superb job of making it relatable to readers of any sexual orientation.

In the same way, Nelson characterizes Jude in such a relatable way. It is so common to see the portrayal of teen angst and rebellion in YA literature. However, Jude’s story is filled with so many real flaws and specific characteristics such as her tendency to see ghosts and interact with them. There is realness to these kinds of original descriptions that make seemingly cliché story lives, such as teen romance and loss, more dimensional.

The relationship between siblings is a very interesting theme in the novel as well. I have read several novels that speak on the relationship between sisters or between brothers, however, Nelson creates and interesting dynamic in presenting a pair of fraternal twins, one being female and the other being male. In the same way, Nelson also introduces an interesting family dynamic overall. The inclusion of the twins’ parents is unusual in YA literature, which tends to remove the parents from the story entirely. The novel also offers another adult with a significant role in the sculptor who becomes a role model for Jude.

I’ll Give You the Sun is not only an excellent book that highlights and explains many teen struggles and experiences but also an awesome book for readers of any age who simply want to indulge in the lives of authentic characters and empathize with the emotions they encounter throughout the coming of age story.

* If you particularly loved John Green’s, The Fault in Our Stars, for its fresh take on the “sick story” I would highly recommend this book because it features the same surprising truthfulness and relatability.


Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of The Buddha

Adolescents face the difficult task in defining themselves and discovering who they are as they make their way into adulthood. Although Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, is not technically a piece of YA literature it does have a place in the adolescent classroom. The picture chosen to represent Brach’s self-help book is a woman with her arms open to the world. This picture represents the openness and mindfulness taught in Radical Acceptance. There are many ways to deal with struggle and adversity, both of which many teens face as they grow up. However, this book explains one method where a person opens themselves to their experiences, thus allowing themselves to experience their lives free from self-deprecation of self loathing. So many teenagers face issues of insecurity that come from the various changes they experience physically and mentally. Using Radical Acceptance to pause and evaluate where feelings are coming from in order to be mindful is one way that adolescents may learn to deal with their problems. This picture exemplifies Radical Acceptance because, although all things are not wonderful to experience, they can be seen that way if they are taken as part of the human experience or part of life.

Picture Citation:

Creative Commons from Flickr “Freedom 2”

CC BY 2.0


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a true story about an Olympian that becomes a prisoner of war during Workd War II. This book is such a great depiction of the power of perseverance and the strength of a person. In the beginning of the story, the reader meets Louis Zamperini, a young and reckless boy from an Italian family. Louis is always getting in trouble but with the help of his older brother he is able to turn his reckless angst into skill by becoming a star on his varsity track team. Booming with natural talent and passion, Louis trains and eventually goes to the Okympics. What is so great about this story is that it is less about Louis as an Olympian and more about his character over all. After he goes to the Olympics he enlists and his plane is shot down in the pacific. Louis and his two comrades are forced to endure hellish conditions and excruciating elements for a total of 47 days before being captured by the enemy. The time he spends in the pacific is some of the most beautiful writing in the book because it shows the transformation of Louis into the person he will be for the rest of his life, his reliance on faith, and his determination to live. When he is taken as a POW he is singled out because of his status as an Olympian. Refusing special treatment, he endures brutal punishment at the camp further proving his will to persevere. Louis becomes the target of a military leader called the Bird, who tortures him mercilessly while he is moved from camp to camp. Consistently demonstrating his drive and passion for life he eventually lives and is freed. The end of the book is concerned with Louis’s ability to let go of the pain he suffered from in war and continuing his life now that he is free again. 

Overall this book is an amazing lesson in human strength and the fact that it is true makes it all the more impressive. I would recommend this book to anyone and will certainly carry the lessons it teaches with me.



This is a picture of an actual diamond in the rough. After reading Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, I decided that this picture perfectly represented the theme of the book. Stargirl is a 10th grade girl who has been home schooled her entire life. She enter Mica High School, her peers make fun of her because she is different and she is ostracized by mostly everyone. Her boyfriend Leo tries to stand by her and accept her differences, however, eventually even he wants her to conform and fit in so he does not have to deal with people objecting to her differences. In the end of the story, Stargirl realizes that she can’t change who she is and she should have to be anyone other than herself. I chose a picture of a diamond in the rough because I felt it took the idea of individuality and pushed it a little further. I don’t think that the point of the novel was only to remind readers to be themselves and embrace their differences but to recognize that these differences are what make people individually beautiful and unique. I though of Stargirl like a diamond in the rough because although she was different, her kindness and warmth outshined all of the other students at Mica. Sometimes being different means rising above the norm and sometimes the norm isn’t always right. I think that Stargirl was the diamond in the rough that is high school.

Picture Citation: CC BY-SA 2.0

13 Reasons Why

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

13 Reasons Why was author, Jay Asher’s, first novel. This book is about a teenage girl, Hannah, who is suffering from depression and commits suicide. The book begins after she has already killed herself and left 13 cassette tapes to specific people explaining why they all had a part in her suicide. The narrator of the story switches off between Hannah and a boy named Clay, who listens to the tapes. Clay was not really a part of Hannah’s suicide in the same way as the other people she speaks about on the tapes and he is conflicted about why she included him as one of the people to listen to them. This story is a very sad example of how rumors and gossip can really hurt a person and how one persons actions may not seem that harmful but when compounded, they may negatively affect another person’s life. Throughout the story Clay listens to Hannah’s tapes and is guilty for not seeing the signs of her depression earlier and for not getting to know her because he believed the rumors he heard about her. The dark, and sometimes disturbing, story leading up to Hannah’s suicide show Clay how much there actually is to a person and how important it is to try and get to know people for yourself. In the end of the story, Clay uses his experiences with Hannah and her tapes to change his actions. With the new ability to identify the signs of depression or personal struggle, he reaches out of a girl he thinks might be suffering from something similar to Hannah. Although the reader doesn’t get to see whether or not he helps the girl, it shows the reader that Clay has changed and Hannah’s death was not in vain.

I think this book was very good even though it was hard to read. I think it is important for young adults to read about depression and suicide because it is something that affects their age group. The book portrays a realistic high school experience, filled with gossip, bullying, cliques, sex, drugs, ect. and how that world can be hard to handle if you feel alone. Although it is a dark topic, the book does a pretty good job of highlighting what is important to know about depression and suicide in young adults. The only negative thing I have to say about the novel is that the way the book is structures makes Hannah out to seem very vengeful and angry, which I’m sure she was, however, I would not want students reading this book to confuse Hannah as some sort of spiteful villain rather than the victim she truly was.

American Born Chinese

Being different is never easy. It isn’t fun to stand out of in a crowd and have people treat you a certain way because of your appearance, background, the way you speak or dress, how old you are, or basically anything that set you apart. In American Born Chinese, the main character, Jin, struggles to accept his chinese heritage. He constantly tries to become Americanized and at one point he even transforms into another person because he is so untrue to who he really is. Similarly, the Monkey King tries to conform and conceal his monkey heritage by wearing shoes. The picture of a funny face symbolizes the message in the book because it is a reminder to “embrace one’s weirdness”. That is not to say in anyway that Jin or the Monkey King are weird in a negative sense, it simply means that they had to learn to embrace their differences because it is only once this is done that a person (or monkey) can be his or her best self.

Photo Citation: CC BY 2.0

Looking For Alaska

Aside from the unintended snow reference, the perfect picture to synthesize the message of John Green’s Looking for Alaska is a shot of a beautiful snowy street. While there are many different moral lessons, meanings, and messages in the novel one that really stood out is the idea that something can seem simply beautiful while really existing as a much more complex conundrum. The character Alaska is so alluring to Miles because her beauty and lively personality excites him. He almost falls in love with the idea of Alaska much in the same way people romanticize snowy days (“Winter Wonderland” for instance). While a snowy day may seem perfectly beautiful from a distance or from inside one’s warm home, in reality snow does a lot of damage, ruins plans, alters schedules, causes accidents, creates panic, and it is not even sustainable for humans to exist in for a long period of time. In the same way, Alaska may look stunning, and her troubled past may seem like somewhat of a beautiful darkness but in reality it is actually much more complex and leads to her downfall.