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.

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.

A Few Words on “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

This book, by Sherman Alexie, is a great coming of age story about identity. The main character, Junior as he’s called on the rez or Arnold amongst the “white kids”, is very relatable because he is funny in his delivery and honest in what he says. Although he is younger than I am he speaks with maturity and the times that he does not (such as his incessant hormonal debacle), it was easy for me to identify with what he goes through because his experiences are common to most adolescents. I really enjoy how the book does not tell the reader how to feel but instead presents the reader with the raw happenings of Junior’s life, which ultimately leads the reader to draw his/her own conclusions from the novel.

It is extremely interesting to see how Sherman Alexie handled the issues of race and poverty in the story because often those topics are watered down when being delivered to young adults. Sherman Alexie does an amazing job of truthfully depicting the hardships Junior faces and the pure thoughts that he had during his transition from the rez to Reardan.

The development of Junior’s character through the use of his cartoons also offered a way for the reader to get to know Junior outside of his words (which he mentions in the story was his very point). Throughout the story his character developed and so did his relationships, something I think that most young adults experience in high school. Both the characters of Penelope and Rowdy were so deep and dramatic the reader feels a connection to the book that allows him/her to take from it what they feel applies to his/her own life and circumstance.

Picture Citation: CC BY-SA