I’m so excited to have another author this week in our Sundays With Writers series. Jandy Nelson is my new favorite young adult author and I think once you read her words, you will understand why this author has found such a special place in my heart. I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun and I just couldn’t put it down. Spoiler alert: this one is making the top ten for 2015 so add this to your must-read list!
In some ways, it reminded me of Eleanor & Park because the characters were just quirky, endearing, and it captured that angst and heartache of youth so well. In other ways, this book was unlike any I have ever read where the authors words are so incredibly visual that it felt like you were reading a painting and the words were living and breathing off the pages. It’s hard to capture into words, that’s why you must read it and why I am BEYOND thrilled to have Jandy join us today.
I’ll Give You the Sun is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.
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 . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. 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, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.
I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.
Grab a cup of coffee and let’s settle in with the fantastic Jandy Nelson.
One thing that makes this book incredibly unique is the chapter set-up. With one twin telling the story as it is happening and the other telling it three years down the road, the reader can begin piecing these two stories together in such a unique way. Why do you think it was important to tell your story this way and how difficult was this to execute as an author?
It definitely took a while for me to figure it all out. I knew from the beginning I wanted the story to be told in both Noah’s and Jude’s POVs and in different timeframes, wanted their narratives to be interwoven and the structure of the novel to mimic the mirroring/braided way it can feel to be a twin. Also, it was important to me that each twin’s voice be distinct and each of their stories have its own propulsion and tension. In a lightning strike moment, I decided what I needed to do was write Noah’s story start to finish, then Jude’s start to finish, and intertwine them after. When I was working on one twin’s narrative I’d lock the file of the other’s so I wouldn’t cheat and would stay in the heart/mind/body/time period of the twin I was working on. Once I had both stories finished—this took about two years—I began weaving the stories together which was like writing a whole new novel. I think I lost 50K words in that process, which took another year and a half and involved a lot of praying! In general, my thinking was that the interweaving structure both in different POVs and in different time periods would allow the mystery elements of the novel to unfold and be revealed in the best possible way. Like you say, I wanted the reader to slowly piece the story together. I hoped this structure would create more suspense and momentum, that feeling of “Wait, what actually happened in those intervening years?”
As a reader we are taken on the journey of Noah feeling like, “a broken umbrella,” because of his sexuality and the acceptance of who he is. Have you heard from any gay young adults who have identified with Noah’s journey? How has your story impacted kids (or even parents) that are going through this?
In many ways, I think Noah feels like “a broken umbrella” when he’s younger less because of his sexuality, which both thrills and frightens him, and more because of his (misguided) perception of his father’s disdain for him, which in Noah’s mind includes his sexuality, yes, but also his artistic and solitary nature. I have heard from many lgbtq teens and it just means the world to me. Unbelievably, some have told me that Noah changed their lives, others that reading his story inspired them to come out or be more true to themselves. And others still, lots of adults as well, just happy to read a love story between two teenage guys. I’ve also heard from a few parents who said they were grateful that their son or daughter now has Noah and his story and that it’s helped their child not feel so alone. There’s really no way to express how happy this kind of feedback makes me. It’s everything!
I’ll Give You the Sun has been optioned for screenplay which I couldn’t be more excited about. Do you have any information on what readers can expect with the film and how involved are you in the process of adapting this book into film?
Yes, Warner Brothers optioned the novel this summer before it came out and Denise Di Novi and Allison Greenspan are attached to produce. The screenwriter Natalie Krinsky is writing the screenplay this very minute. So honestly, not so much to report yet, but hopefully soon. It’s funny, the twins became so real to me that one time in the middle of writing the novel, I went to a Diebenkorn exhibit at the museum and my first thought on entering the gallery was, “It’s such a shame Noah and Jude couldn’t come with me today.” I’d absolutely forgotten that they weren’t real in that moment! So it’ll be wild to truly see them as flesh and blood. I’m also very excited to see all the artwork: Noah’s mind-paintings, Guillermo’s granite giants, Jude’s sand women. The art in the story is incredibly vivid in my head so it will be something to see different artists take on the work. So far I’ve been very involved in the process and everyone’s been wonderful and incredibly respectful of the novel. Fingers crossed!
One thing I really appreciate about you, as an author, is the extensive research you really did to form these characters…even diving into a sculpting classes yourself! Did you find any special talents or hobbies that surprised you in this journey of creating these voices?
Oh how I wish that I’d found some latent artistic talent when writing this novel! What I actually found out in that sculpture class was I’m the worst stone carver on earth. Alas, I think the closest I’ll ever get to painting is making Noah’s mind-paintings. That was such a blast for someone like me who can’t even do a stick figure justice. But yes, I definitely do a lot of research. My natural inclination is to constantly want to go back to school and so doing research for a novel satisfies this impulse and is much less life-disrupting. I recently decided I’m kind of a method writer, like there are method actors. I love to get completely immersed in my characters and this includes their passions and interests. For instance, there’s a character in my new book who loves to cook and so I’ve been reading cookbooks in the bathtub and generally cooking up a storm for everyone who’ll let me. It’s one of the best parts of writing fiction for me, getting to live all these other lives in addition to my own. It’s the best kind of sorcery.
If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be?
Two books: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. My all time favorite novels.
You can connect with Jandy Nelson on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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