Study This: I’ll Give You the Sun

Here’s another in my Study This series about intentional reading—that is, novels you writers will read for pleasure (always pleasure!) but also to study. To deconstruct. To have a look at how the author made the magic.

You know I love YA, so it should come as no surprise that I’d suggest one to study. I recently finished Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun and was knocked out by it. But don’t make the mistake of thinking I don’t write YA, so this article is not for me. Because it is. The techniques demonstrated here—

• careful pacing/structure (the doling out of “clues” to the denouement)
• characterization (particularly the use of voice)
• tension (also a function of pacing)
• theme (establishing it, layering it in)

—are marks every type of novel needs to hit.

Here’s some of the jacket copy (I think it could have been much better—and I’m entitled to that opinion, since I’ve written cover copy for hundreds of books—but that’s a different post altogether):

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story . . .

Like a romance, I’ll Give You the Sun alternates viewpoints between Noah—who tells the story of the twins’ thirteenth year—and his sister Jude, who narrates from three years later, when they are sixteen. As these story lines converge near the end of the novel, you realize something is missing.

But what? What is missing? Each chapter is rich with detail and story. And, like a suspense novel, we know pretty much right up front what caused the breach: the death of a parent. What is missing, though, is what keeps readers turning the pages.

This brings us back to pacing. I’d suggest you reread once you know how I’ll Give You the Sun ends. You might even outline as you read this second time, to see where the revelations fall in the narrative. They’re all there. What is missing, then, is the shading of meaning.

And that comes from characterization. The New York Times review says IGYTS is “a testament, really, to Nelson’s ability to build a suspenseful story not on plot devices but on the tightly coiled inner lives of her characters.” Yes, that’s it. The twins each have a very distinctive voice that reflects what he or she is thinking and feeling: guilt, anguish, longing, exhilaration, love, grief, regret. (The Huffington Post says Noah’s narrative “walks the line between poetry and prose,” while Jude’s is “visceral” and raw.) It takes awhile before you realize both Jude and Noah are unreliable narrators, though in different ways.

This contributes, of course, to what’s missing. Not just shading, but the secrets the twins keep from each other. Although, again, readers know what those secrets are.

Intrigued? You should be! Read this structurally brilliant novel with the Big Themes—death, grief, fate, and family—and study it!

Tweet: I’ll Give You the Sun—have a look at how the author made the magic.
Tweet: Read this structurally brilliant novel with Big Themes—death, grief, fate, family—& study it!
Tweet: Study it. Watch where the revelations fall in the narrative. They’re all there.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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