Review: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson

Review: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy NelsonI'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on September 16th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell 

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.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

[Warning: review partially written under the influence of this heady, intoxicating book. Language may or may not have been hijacked by Noah Sweetwine’s incredible voice.]

Oh, man. I would review this just by stringing together quote after beautiful quote if I could! Seriously, I could do it. I liked about 23 quotes on Goodreads. (My secret mission may or may not be to convince you to read it from the quotes alone. 😉 )

“Who knows if [maybe] destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life?”

As mentioned in the synopsis, I’ll Give You the Sun has a really unique structure — and it creates a one-of-a-kind story that you can’t forget. The book has 2 POVs: the first being Noah as he narrates their life at about 13 years old, and the second being Jude as she narrates their life at 16. During the time between the two perspectives, it’s clear that some major things have happened that have caused the twins to painfully grow apart until they hardly recognize each other. Both POVs feature pivotal moments in their lives as the reader tries to piece together what happened.

“This is what I want: I want to grab my brother’s hand and run back through time, losing years like coats falling from our shoulders.”

Though I hesitate to use the term (because I’m not sure that it accurately describes it, though it’s the only word I really have), the book is full of magical realism and I absolutely LOVED it! It took a little time to adjust, wondering if some of the outrageous things described we really happening, but once I learned to roll with it, there was no going back. For me, it magnified the emotions of everything that was happening and made it that much stronger and dizzyingly brilliant. It made the ordinary extraordinary.

“There’s something going on in his face right now, something very bright trying to get out — a dam keeping back a wall of light. His soul might be a sun. I’ve never met anyone that had the sun for a soul.”

And this book just has so many “-isms,” I’ll-give-you-the-sun-isms. Things that make the book so special and types of “inside jokes” that people who haven’t read the book would be utterly confused by. Like that you should probably cry if I call you a “broken umbrella,” or that you should be pretty angry if I call you a “toilet-licking, garbage-headed scum-sucker.” (Then again, maybe that one’s not so hard to figure out, haha.) And Clark Gable knows that you shouldn’t just go around handing out oranges to people because that is DANGEROUS.

Each different perspective is also broken up by snippets unique to each POV that are so like that character, and provide insight. Noah’s snippets are the portraits he paints in “the invisible museum” of his mind (he’s an artist). Jude’s are prices of bizarre advice and remedies found in the “bible” she inherits from her grandmother (she’s a bit superstitious). I enjoyed them so much!

(SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Rowing Madly Back Through Time)
If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply

But undeniably, it was really Noah Sweetwine who stole the show. This boy. I LOVE THIS BOY. I don’t think I couldn’t like him even if I tried. (And trying would be a terrible crime.) His voice is so purely honest and emotional. At 13 Noah is shy but passionate, his whole world awash in colors and images, and his whole life is his art. He feels like no one understands him but Jude.

“It occurs to me that Jude does this too, changes who she is depending on who she’s with. They’re like toads changing their skin color. How come I’m always just me?”

That is, until he meets Brian. The way Noah describes Brian is like a heaven-sent being. (PORTRAIT, SELF-PORTRAIT: The Boy Who Watched the Boy Hypnotize the World) Brian is nerdy just like Noah, and he has this incredible inner energy. Noah’s world shifts as soon as he meets him, because he finally finds someone else who understands him. Their feelings for each other are exhilarating and warm, tentative and infectious. I’ll confess, I had I only read two other LGBTQ romance books before this, and neither were great. But Brian and Noah? Their romance blows EVERYTHING out of the water.

“I’m thinking the reason I’ve been so quiet all those years is only because Brian wasn’t around yet for me to tell everything to.”

Onto Jude, “the patron saint of lost causes.” Yes, while it took me a little while to warm up to Jude — she isn’t exactly warm and huggable — she eventually won me over. At 16 Jude is a girl lost, hiding from the world with her life “on pause.” She’s struggling to deal with so many unresolved issues in her life that she’s kind of buried herself and resorted to her superstitious “bible-thumping,” and above all, her boycott. But you see the she does have a strong will and plenty of determination, and that she has so much guilt that is just tearing her up inside. She does care, she just needs to remember that it’s ok to show it.

“I think you can sort of slip out of your life and it can be hard to f ind a way back in.”
“What if I’m in charge of my own damn light switch?”

I first decided to pick up this book because of Noah and Jude’s sibling-hood, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a big part of the story, but also not the central focus — I guess I’d say it’s like a very crucial frame to the story that is all-important, but not always the center of attention. I’m sure that anyone who is close with their siblings can relate pretty well, but as a triplet myself, everything about them hit me so hard and reminded me of my sisters and I. Their famous shoulder-to-shoulder “smush” pose that makes them feel complete together, the way they play at splitting up the world for world domination — even the way they both marry a madrone tree when they were five (with Jude also being the minister). Their incredible closeness and shared imagination felt so familiar. And the way Jude worries about how much Noah has changed and how their relationship is nonexistent — it KILLED me inside.

When twins are separated, their spirits seal away to f ind the other

And there’s so much more to discover that I didn’t touch on if you read the book. Two other amazing characters, another fated romance, tangibly heartbreaking family issues, more awesome art stuff, ghosts, jealousy, donuts, penis panic attacks… wait, what? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out. * mwah ha ha ha *

If you’ve ever thought about starting this book, START IT. If you’ve never heard of this book, well, you have now, so READ IT ALREADY!


Review: ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ by Stephanie Perkins

Review: ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ by Stephanie PerkinsIsla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Series: Anna and the French Kiss #3
Published by Penguin on 2014-08-14
Format: Hardcover
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Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

So oddly enough, I read an extended preview of Isla and the Happily Ever After before I had ever read anything else in the series. It was, of course, AMAZING, so I proceeded to race through Anna and the French Kiss and then promptly devoured Lola and the Boy Next Door. I loved them both — perhaps Lola even more so than Anna (you can see my past reviews for them here and here), so I couldn’t wait for Isla to come out. 

In the meantime, my excitement and expectations for Isla and Josh’s love story kept growing at an exponential rate. If I liked Lola even better than Anna, surely Isla would be the best book in the series by far! After all, Stephanie Perkins spent at least three years writing it. I kept building up the romance in my head, until I was nearly buzzing with excitement.

And while it pains me to say it, my expectations got the better of me. Yes, I enjoyed the book, just as I did Perkins’ other books. But somehow Isla fell a little flat for me in some aspects.

From their hilarious, fated, adorable chance meeting back home in New York City over the summer, I was swooning over Josh and Isla. Everything about their chance meeting was classic Perkins — from Isla’s comical inner thoughts, to the small details about Josh that make any reader fall instantly under his spell.

Expecting more classic Perkins, I settled in for the long run as they both returned to school at SOAP after not seeing each other for the rest of the summer. Imagine my surprise when, after only a small period of stolen glances and pretend disinterest, Isla and Josh became Isla and Josh within the span of a week!

Someone call the book police — author Stephanie Perkins has been spotted speeding! (I couldn’t help myself). While getting straight to the romance is no crime — and well, it was actually quite refreshing in some aspects — it was what I was least expecting from Perkins. If I had to describe a typical Perkins romance in a few words, I would definitely say yearning, drawn-out, and slow-burning. The slow build of the romances in both Anna and Lola have become to me as being characteristic of her novels, and I just LOVE the romantic tension it produces, as I’m sure a lot of other readers do too. So I was pleasantly surprised when Isla and Josh began to date so early in the book (just under a fourth of the novel), but also a little saddened, too — I’d become attached to the classic Perkins love story.

But, never fear! There were other classic Perkins elements that warmed my heart. Josh and Isla’s (mis)adventures across Paris and Barcelona, secondary characters in the form of her best friend, Kurt, and little sister, Hattie, who spice things up, Josh’s passion for Art, and Isla’s sister troubles all fleshed out the story while reminding me of the details that really make Perkins’ books so enjoyable to me.

As I kept flipping the pages though, there was a nagging thought that I couldn’t shake even as I adored seeing Isla and Josh’s relationship grow. Who is Isla, apart form the girl who is in love with Josh? I racked my brains for things I knew about her — quiet, a middle sister, responsible, unsure of her future, and a reader of adventure tales. Though I knew some concrete facts about Isla I still couldn’t help but feel that she could be anyone; as if, in an attempt to make her relatable, Perkins gave her a very average identity (and tossed in a unique hobby) that instead made her feel ’empty’ to me. Isla is, in fact, a self-described “blank canvas.” While I understood that Isla is in her senior year and doesn’t know what she wants to so with her life, sometimes I felt like I never had a complete understanding of her at all. Or maybe I was just spoiled, coming not long off having the pleasure of reading about such a unique character as Lola.

But, aaagh! By the sounds of my review so far, you would probably think that I didn’t enjoy Isla — which isn’t true! I just think that, in all honesty, it had a few factors going against it for me personally. Not only was it impossible to really surpass my expectations for the book after reading my personal favorite of the series, Lola and the Boy Next Door, but I ended up reading Isla over a longer period of time than I usually like reading a book (college, yo!).

So to finish off my (long!) review on a happy note, I saved my favorite part of the book for last. Though the wait was long, the cameos in Isla do NOT disappoint. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that the whole gang is back and YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT!

Though I swooned just as hard over the romance, Isla fell short of the rest of Perkins’ books for me.

Review: ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ by Stephanie Perkins

Review: ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ by Stephanie PerkinsLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Series: (Anna and the French Kiss #2)
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on 2011-09-29
Format: Hardcover
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Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

This. Book. *Sigh*

Guys, this book was ADORABLE. It was everything I expected in a Stephanie Perkins book, and even more. I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it going in because of all the differences from Anna and the French Kiss (not set in SOAP or even abroad or at a boarding school? The tears!), but I came to love Lola all the more for these differences! 

Though San Fran is no Paris, I really did like the setting of Lola. I love hearing about the crazy neighbors in Lola’s neighborhood full of candy-colored victorian houses, getting to know the places she frequents in the area (like the neighborhood playground where you can sled down the grass on pizza boxes), and just the general sense of home. SOAP is a pretty awesome place, but it was great to get to know a place where a character has lived for a while, and hearing all the memories associated with it. 


Anna’s dad rocks.

And unlike in Anna, we really get the chance to know Lola’s parents — and they’re absolutely awesome! They chat with her, encourage her to be herself, and even defend her against snooty customers (you’ll love it). It’s always great to read a YA book with a supportive family, and her parents become even more important to her whenever she is dealing with her often-difficult birth mother. And because I picked up this book wanting a light contemporary, I was glad that Lola’s adoption didn’t overwhelm the plot, and it instead added a bit of depth.

But what have I been rambling on about for so long? THIS IS A PERKINS BOOK, LET’S GET TO THE BOYS! (*ahem* Sorry.) Ya know, I think I found something on the book’s Goodreads page that sums it up perfectly. It’s from Rainbow Rowell’s review of the book:

Stephanie Perkins writes excellent boys. Girls, too — but ESPECIALLY boys. They feel specific. Like real people, not shapeless dream things.

I REALLY wish I had the book now, but I checked out a library copy. But if I did have it, I would take out an excerpt where Lola is describing Cricket’s hands. Yes, his hands. His beautiful, caring, meticulous, and ingenious hands. Hands that create Rube Goldbergs just to do simple tasks, or that build a transport system between their two houses to carry notes and things. Hands that always have reminders written on them, from buy eggs to seize the day. Yes, I’ll admit it: I fell in love with the boy’s hands.


Well said.

So, needless to say, Cricket Bell is intoxicatingly amazing. Perkins writes him so well, giving him such a caring personality, but also making him capable of mistakes. Lola and his love story is not a simple one — in fact, it’s kinda messy — but it’s a lovely one that you’ll just have to read.

But what bugged me about the book towards the end was one little bone I had to pick with Lola. Just like Anna, Lola seems to have a hamartia — a fatal flaw (hehe, a TFIOS reference!). Though she comes to realize her feelings for someone else, she just can’t seem to bring herself to break off her current relationship, and of course is essentially emotionally cheating on her boyfriend. It seems all to obvious to me that this is just a plot ploy on Perkins’ part to keep the story going in a certain direction, but it drives me crazy that Lola can’t just wake up and do what’s right, when it’s all too evident. (*Throws hands up in air in disgust*)

All that’s left to discuss is one of my FAVORITE parts of the book — its companionship! Being the second in a loosely-constructed ‘series’, two characters from Anna appear in Lola — St. Clair, and of course, Anna. Lola happens to work at the movie theater that Anna works in, and Cricket knows St. Clair from Berkeley, where they go to school together. Let me just say that any part with Anna or more likely St. Clair had me fangirling TO THE MAX. Anna lovers, take note: if anything else, read this book just for these parts (though the rest is spectacular as well). Not only are Anna/St.Clair parts often swoon-worthy, but they usually served a useful purpose in the book. Now, please leave me be to mentally prepare Anna and Étienne’s wedding…

Absolutely gobbled this book up. Perkins fans will approve.


Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman

Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay #1
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on 04-02-09
Format: Hardcover
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Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

I’m definitely on the fence about this one. On the one hand, it was well-written and felt so real. But there were other elements of the book that I enjoyed less, for sure.

Though she feels that she is dealing with many tough choices in her life (go to the local university or try for Juilliard, across the country), Mia suddenly is left with only one choice when she and her family are involved in a horrific car accident. She finds that in her ‘medically-induced’ coma, that she is the one who decides what happens to her; Mia is the one “running the show.” Will she choose to leave now that she is an orphan, or will she choose to stay for all that she has left (her best friend, her boyfriend, all the others who love her, and her future career in music)?

It is a bit difficult to describe the plot of If I Stay. The present-day plot follows Mia as she goes from the accident to her stay in the hospital. All the while, Mia is having a sort of out-of-body experience as she goes around the hospital separate from her comatose self, able to see and hear everything while she moves freely about.

A secondary plot of the book was entirely made up of flashbacks throughout Mia’s life, chronicling some of her most important memories involving her cello playing (a huge part of her life) and her moments with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

Some of my gripes involve these plots. The hospital was mostly predictable, while the flashbacks kept the pacing rather slow. While I did enjoy the flashbacks because they reveal who Mia is and how the people in her life make her who she is, it still means that half of the book is slower because the flashbacks aren’t the ‘present’. But I think Forman tries to remedy this by making the book rather short (under 200 pages) so that the plot must move along at a reasonable pace.

A main theme for sure was music, as almost everyone is Mia’s life is musical. Mia herself is a cello prodigy of sorts, while her parents were a part of the punk rock scene in their day, and her boyfriend, Adam, is in a local band that is just taking off. While it was interesting to read deeply on a type of culture that I am not a part of, the music theme was a little too much for my taste. Every metaphor in the book centered around music, which I tired of. Maybe it would appeal to music aficionados, though.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

What I did enjoy was the Pacific Northwestern setting of If I Stay. Forman’s novel is set in Oregon, and includes little snippets of Northwest culture, from the omnipresent rain to the hipsters. Having visited the Portland area and Oregon coast last November for a college visit, I really loved hearing more about the area — I definitely want to go back some day. :))

And of course, as is typical with near-death experiences, they always put life into perspective — and Mia’s life was definitely put into perspective in If I Stay.  We so often make things harder than they need to be, or don’t try hard enough for the things we want most. Only when all our opportunities are taken away do we see how much we had and how much we could do.

And hey! It also has a movie coming out in August. The trailer is below for your viewing pleasure…it may have SPOILERS, with this book it’s kind of hard to tell what would be one even after having read it. It seems like the movie may be told in a slightly different order, and it looks to me to be already more appealing as a movie because the visual and sound elements add so much more to what the book was able to present.

A recommended read for music lovers, and would appeal to those who are looking for a ‘deep’ read.