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



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.

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.

Port Chicago 50

The Civil Rights Movement was a long and slow process which was confronted with challenges from several different angles. After reading Port Chicago 50 I thought about how the incident at Port Chicago and the trial that followed sparked interest in civil rights, especially as it related to the treatment of African Americans in the military. I chose to symbolize the events of Port Chicago 50 with the picture of a small sapling breaking through concrete because it represents a how a force that is strong, like nature, can push through opposition and hardship. I felt that the Civil Rights Movement was a slow moving process that required a great deal of patience from African Americans who wanted their equality. In Port Chicago 50 the men accused of mutiny had to be patient throughout the court case, during their unfair prison time, and after the case as the Civil Rights Movement continued. I think that the symbol of a new born tree is a strong metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement because thought it may seem weak, the fact that it can grow and thrive in the most unlikely places shows that it is strong and will not go down without a fight.

Photo Attributed to : Ray_from_LA on flickr.com

Picture Citation: CC BY-SA