May 19, 2015

First Quarter of 2015: Best Books I Didn't Blog About

First Quarter of 2015: Best Books I Didn't Blog About

As I was saying recently, I’m very happy with where my reading is taking me so far this year. However, between work, life, and general troubles and adventures, writing about said reading has kind of fallen by the wayside. With the first quarter of 2015 behind us (how?), I thought I’d give myself an amnesty: instead of making unrealistic plans to catch up, I’ll tell you, in approximately a hundred words per entry, about some of the most memorable books I read in the past four months. Here it goes:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia Tate, an eleven-year-girl in 1899 Texas, shares her grandfather’s fascination with the natural world. She longs to be a scientist and rebels against the strict domestic role she’s pushed into due to gendered expectations. I loved getting to know Callie: her intellectual curiosity and her passion for science really come alive in these pages. Additionally, I loved Calpurnia’s relationship with her reclusive grandfather, as well as the fact that her more traditionally “girly” best friend Lula is neither demonised nor dismissed. Similarly, Kelly is sensitive in her handling of Callie’s mother and her concerns about her daughter’s non-traditional interests.

Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones:

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
Two companion novels about the Magid, a group of sorcerers and sorceresses who more or less oversee the use of magic across different worlds: Deep Secret is about Rupert, a Magid in search of a new trainee; potential candidate Maree; an intergalactic conspiracy; and a hilarious fantasy convention where anything can and does happen. The Merlin Conspiracy is partially set in an Arthurian world, and it’s told from the point of view of Maree’s cousin Nick and of a teenage girl named Roddy, who becomes aware of an alarming conspiracy at the King’s travelling court. These novels are smart, satisfyingly complex, deeply embedded in myth, and immensely fun to read. They were a reminder of why I should stop hoarding unread DWJs and just plunge in: life is too short to keep delaying gratification like this.

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle:

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
Wren and Charlie fall in love the summer after they graduate high school: their story is about the vulnerability that comes with real intimacy, both sexual and emotional, and the difficult process of opening yourself up to it. However, I felt that the novel also reinforced dubious ideas about relationship balance being tied to traditional gender roles. Wren’s best friend says at one point that the trouble with modern feminism is that it doesn’t acknowledge women want to be women and men want to be men; while fictional characters often say things narratives as a whole don’t support, I saw no challenge of that idea here. In short, I loved this novel and it touched me deeply, but there’s plenty to it that needs examining.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby:
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
Hornby’s historical novel about the creative team behind a 1960s sitcom made me first very happy and then very sad. I loved heroine Sophie Straw and her determination to be taken seriously as a comic actress. I loved the smart ideas about pop culture and its meaningfulness — they’ll be familiar to readers of Hornby’s non-fiction, but they’re brought to life beautifully in this story. And I loved the writing too. However, I dearly wish Bill Gardiner had been allowed an ending that didn’t reinforce ideas about lgbtq lives being inherently tragic. It’s not, as I always say, each individual story that’s the issue, but the pattern is unmissable and it grates.

Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky:

Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky
The sequel of Anatomy of a Boyfriend does an even better job than Snadowsky’s first novel of validating teen girls’ right to experience and act on their desire. Dominique, newly single after a breakup with her first boyfriend, gets involved with a cute boy for the summer and learns about a different side of her sexuality. While her previous relationship was about emotional intimacy, this one is about discovering pleasure. The novel also emphasises safe sex, trust, consent and communication, and it puts Dominque’s decisions (including to say no and walk away) at the centre of the story.

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones:

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones
More DWJ wonderfulness: this one’s a dark novel about four sisters, a creepy doll cult, and a (maybe) ghost. I was unsure to begin with because I remembered how many attempts it took Jenny until she got into it properly, but I’m thrilled to report it worked for me. The plot, which is hazy at first, eventually falls into place, and the family dynamics and perceptive portrayal of childhood disempowerment grabbed me from the start. The book made me sad too, but not in a bad way — it’s mostly that, having read DWJ’s essays, I couldn’t help but think that there was plenty about the Melford sisters’ lives that was probably familiar to her.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell:

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
You’ll be unsurprised to hear I loved this for all the same reasons why I loved March: Book One. Lately I’ve been particularly interested in stories about the circumstances that allow people to get involved in transformative social movements, and John Lewis’ account of his activism examines the matter thoughtfully and perceptively. It also taught me a lot about the history of the Civil Rights movement, plenty of which I hadn’t come across before. It gave me context for these images, which I’m very grateful to have. I can’t wait for the third and final installment of this story.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens:

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
Just as good as the first Wells & Wong mystery, Murder Most Unladylike. This time, Daisy and Hazel investigate a murder mystery at Fallingford, Daisy’s family’s manor house, rather than at school; but there’s just as much period detail, friendship and tension, intrigue, danger, and devious plotting to uncover. There’s also a group of children trying to make sense of the unspoken rules of adult behaviour and of all the scary, upsetting things even adults close to them might be up to: this layer of emotional resonance and perceptiveness is what makes Stevens’ writing stand out for me.

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein:

White Raven Black Dove by Elizabeth Wein
What Maureen said. I greatly enjoyed Black Dove, White Raven, a novel about the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini’s regime, but I need to acknowledge that I read it from a position of privilege. Wein’s characterisation was excellent as always, the writing was incredible, and the ties between her characters were vivid and moving. I fell for siblings Theo and Emilia, and also for their mothers, pilots Delia and Rhoda. Additionally, the novel brought a previously unexplored pocked of history to life for me. Yet the fact remains that I’m a white reader reading a novel about African history by a white writer: as much as Wein’s research may seem careful and respectful to me, there’s plenty of context that I lack.

Infandous by Elana K. Arnold:

Infandous by Elana K. Arnold
This one is for fans of books like Poisoned Apples, Bone Gap or All Our Pretty Songs. Infandous has a plot that reads a bit like a Greek myth; additionally, the main storyline, about teenage artist Sephora Golding, is interweaved with brief retellings of myths and fairy tales centred around violence against women. This novel examines the chilling consequences of an unthinking act of carelessness which is deeply steeped in male privilege and unequal gendered power dynamics. I’m not easily shaken, but the revelation at the heart of this novel did it. It’s dark and difficult, but beautifully written and (for me) well worth reading.

Limbo Lodge by Joan Aiken:

Limbo Lodge by Joan Aiken
This book is part of Aiken’s delightful alternate history Wolves chronicles, and it proved one of my favourites so far. Whenever I read Aiken, I’m reminded of why I should do so more often: there’s something about her bold and playful use of language that fills me with pure readerly glee. The same goes for resourceful heroine Dido Twite, and for the twists and turns of Aiken’s plots. I especially enjoyed that Limbo Lodge is set on a colonised island and clearly sides with women and native peoples against the patriarchal and imperialist Angrians. This isn’t to say it’s flawless in terms of representation, but its sensibility spoke to me all the same.

***

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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May 17, 2015

When in doubt, links

When in doubt, links

The scarcity of posts around these parts is likely to continue for a little bit longer; in the meantime, have some links:

  • I’m trying not to make this into a long collection of terrifying political links, so I’ll limit myself to two news pieces. This is the stuff keeping me up at night these days. Also, it was only a matter of time until someone came up with this.

  • Okay, just one more. This one’s about higher education, but it seems to me it applies to libraries just as much:
    These are not economic terms; they are aesthetic, ideological and value-laden. The idea that life should be harsh, bitter, severe and strictly disciplined is, I think, key to what we are up against. Even when there is plenty of money in objective terms, the austerity agenda values punitive and repressive policies because it is based on an inherent, if sometimes unconscious, antipathy to the very services it purports to be managing. Academic management motivated by austerity frankly dislikes, and therefore aims to diminish, the democratic, emancipatory and transformative essence of our universities and colleges.
  • Before we all fall into a pit of despair, here’s some good news: Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life, about a midwife who practiced abortions in 19th century New York, might become an HBO period mini-series starring Anna Paquin. I really need to read the novel, and I look forward to watching this if and when it comes out.

  • More exciting things: upcoming DC comics series Bombshells sounds right up my alley. It’s about Batwoman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl fighting on the front lines of WW2 in an alternative timeline — yes, please.

  • At Panels, the always wonderful Andi recommends comics by all-female creative teams. Nimona and Lumberjanes (which I pre-ordered ages ago) will be in my hands very soon and I absolutely can’t wait to read them.

  • Cheryl Strayed being her customary brilliant self:
    There’s been nary a day in the past decade that I haven’t had to set someone straight about the fact that I wrote my books for people, not women. My female colleagues report much of the same. We swap stories and shake our heads and laugh, but it isn’t funny. Because when an artist has to assert that her intended audience is all humans rather than those who happen to be of her particular gender or race, what she’s actually having to assert is the breadth and depth of her own humanity.

  • Lastly, I came across Howard Zinn’s “Against Discouragement” by chance this week and it was absolutely what I needed to read:
    I learned something about democracy: that it does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice.

  • I’ll leave you with a few pictures from a day children’s books festival I worked last weekend because it cheered me up considerably, at least for the day:













  • May we long have things like this.

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    May 13, 2015

    “Solidarity Forever”: Pride (2014)

    Pride BBC 2014
    “Solidarity Forever”: Pride (2014)
    Pride (2014) tells the true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign: in 1984, when Thatcher was in power and mining communities across the UK went on strike for a period of nearly a year, a group of gay and lesbian activists in London began to fundraise to support their efforts. After being rejected by unions and local groups that feared association with the gay and lesbian community, LGSM focused on supporting miners in South Wales, particularly the Dulais Valley. Pride focuses on the London group, but by the end of the miners’ strike there were eleven LGSM and Lesbians Against Pit Closures groups across the UK.

    As the film shows, the LGSM campaign helped forge closer ties between labour rights groups and gay and lesbian activists, with historical ramifications. Pride ends at the 1985 Lesbian and Gay Pride day in London, when large numbers of miners and their families repaid the support shown to them by marching in favour of equal rights. These acts of mutual solidarity helped entrench lgbtq rights in the Labour party: three years later, a motion of support was passed at their National Conference largely due to a block yes vote from the National Union of Mineworkers.

    Pride BBc 2014 Miners march in Gay and Lesbian Pride parade

    The most moving moment of Pride to me comes when Dai Donovan, a miner from the Dulais Valley who (wrongly) believed he had never met a gay man or a lesbian before coming into contact with LGSM, gives a speech thanking the group for their support:
    What I’d really like to say to you tonight is thank you. If you’re one of the people that’s put money in these buckets, if you’ve supported LGSM, then thank you, because what you’ve given us is more than money. It’s friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.
    These are simple words, but to me they — and the story Pride tells as a whole — get to the heart of what solidarity is about. In the past few years I’ve seen its practice be examined and complicated, and understandably so. It’s possible and far too easy to make mistakes along the way. It doesn’t take much for attempts to help people whose experiences are different from our own to end up putting us in a position where we’re listened to while they continue to be ignored: that’s how systemic inequality works. It’s possible, too, to perpetuate harmful myths even if we have the very best of intentions, and to cause hurt when we genuinely meant to help. I understand this, and I believe in always being mindful of it. But I believe just as strongly in not letting the knowledge that we won’t always get it right paralyse us. I absolutely believe in the concept of solidarity itself, even if the practice can be improved. I believe in coming together when our help will make a difference: it’s essential, and it’s often all we have.

    I called Dais’ speech above the most moving moment for me, but to be honest I cried through pretty much all of Pride. It was in part a matter of timing: I watched it the weekend after an election result that made me fear for everything that’s important to me. I spent last Thursday evening in tears, and then the whole of the next day in a terrified and shocked state. There’s a lot at stake for me over the next five years: as a woman; as an immigrant; as a low-income worker in an increasingly expensive city; as someone who works in, loves, and genuinely believes in public libraries. It’s no exaggeration to say that I don’t know how much of what I care about, how much of the life it took me so long to put together, will survive the political landscape ahead.

    What got me through the day last Friday was refusing to be miserable and afraid in silence. There is, of course, a lot to this refusal, but I’ll get to that in time. I talked to kind colleagues at work who share my fears as public sector workers, and who understand my specific vulnerabilities as an immigrant. I shared my feelings on Twitter and received support from old friends, new friends, passing acquaintances and near strangers — all of whom made a real, tangible difference. I likewise offered my support to those whose fears are and aren’t the same as my own, those who have even more to lose and even less to fall back on. And as the hours passed, I realised that no matter what happens, I need to keep these ties in my life.

    Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in making sense of the circumstances that allow people to take a stance against or for something, both in stories and in life. I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and exhaustion and hope. I don’t think bravery as an individual character trait accounts for much; instead I’ve come to believe that, as Dais put it, we draw strength from the knowledge that we’re not alone, that we have more friends than we imagined. Some of you might remember that I devoted a disproportionate amount of space in my discussion of Rita Williams-Garcia’s excellent Civil Rights era children’s novels to this very question: it was gnawing at me then and it’s still gnawing at me now. I believe in being compassionate when people decide they have too much to lose to be able to speak up, while at the same time creating circumstances that might allow them to make a different decision next time. I believe in valuing different forms of action and support rather than a single model. Solidarity and unity are crucial to this effort.

    I can’t speak for miners and I can’t speak for lgbtq activists; but I engage with stories partially to make sense of and learn to navigate my own life, and this was my takeaway from Pride: support is everything. Solidarity is as essential as oxygen. I found it early on in my life when it comes to gender thanks to the wonderful communities I’ve come across online, but now it needs to happen for the other sides of who I am, both locally and globally. I am, I say again, a woman and an immigrant and a public sector worker without much of a safety net. There are challenges associated with each of these things, which interact in some ways but are unique in others. I need to speak up about them, and to listen when others speak about how the years to come will make their lives harder. I need to hold their hands and allow them to hold mine.

    Back in 2011 I made a bad decision that I hope I’ll be able to write about someday. I’m not at a point where I can do so just yet, but I do want to take note of how its absurdity is starting to hit me, and how it took an uphill climb over a period of many years for me to get to this point. I particularly want to acknowledge that this bad, fear-fuelled decision was the result of a sense of absolute isolation that was as much political as it was personal. It was the result of toxic ideology getting inside my head at a moment of vulnerability. The things I would never believe about others, I started to believe about myself. Just as harmfully, I started to believe that even those I love and who love me back would believe them about me, because how could they not? I can’t go back to that, not ever. My life has become better, infinitely better, because of networks of solidarity and support and hope. This is how we dismantle isolation. This is how we challenge the narratives that make us question our very right to exist. It’s a life project and a political project.

    Pride is about how such networks come to be established, and it was an absolute inspiration at this point in time. I’m grateful that this hidden pocket of history was revealed to me. We desperately need more of this.

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    Apr 29, 2015

    The TBR Dare - How Did I Do?

    pile of new books
    The culprits

    The TBR Dare: How Did I Do?
    As you might remember, back in January I announced my optimistic reading plans for the year: I’d take part in James’ TBR Dare in the first quarter of 2015 and make a real, committed effort to getting to all those books I own and keep neglecting in favour of shiny releases or library holds. My own version of this challenge would be combined with a book buying ban that would last until May. In order to avoid making it too restrictive I came up with a few exceptions, but all in all I had a solid plan to keep me on track. The end of April is nearly here, which means it’s time for a reckoning. How did I do, you ask?

    Not that well, it turns out. But also not too badly.

    What went wrong:

  • I gave myself too many loopholes. Initially I was allowed two library books a month plus whatever highly anticipated 2015 I had pre-ordered, but then—

  • Comics happened. I’ve been reading a lot of them this year, but as they can be quite pricey I like reading them from the library whenever possible, especially when trying out new series or creators. Also, I kind of tend to think they don’t count for TBR pile purposes because I read them very quickly and usually shortly after acquiring them. This means that at some point I decided that comics weren’t going to count towards my two library books a month allowance. Nevertheless, I do include them in my stats, so they’re part of the numbers you’ll see below.

  • Then book addict logic kicked in, and my reasoning went thus: if I’m borrowing however many comics I want from the library, surely that means I can buy them too...?

  • After that came the slippery slope factor: I suspended my book buying ban for a day to go book shopping with a friend, and I found it very hard to go back to my previous discipline after that. I’ve not been completely unrestrained, but to say that I’ve stuck to the ban in any meaningful sense would be a lie.

  • In sum: I fell short of my goal of reading 60% TBR books (which I define not just as books I own, but as books I’ve had for over a month before reading them). My current number is 42%, with the remainder coming from the library or being just-bought new releases.

    What went right:

  • Last year, my final percentage of books read from my TBR pile was a shameful 26%. I’m doing far better this year, and there’s still plenty of time to increase my totals.

  • Comics happened: even though this caused me to fall off the wagon, it’s immensely exciting to find new things to love.

  • Similarly, one of the main reasons why I’ve found it hard not to buy new books this year is that 2015 has brought us a real embarrassment of riches so far. There have been more new releases I can’t wait to read than in any other year I remember, with even more scheduled for the months to come (Uprooted! The Lie Tree! The Rest of Us Just Live Here!). Again, it’s hard not to think of this as a good thing, even if it sabotaged my plans.

  • I did read a lot of books I’d owned for years in the first quarter of 2015, namely a lot of old Diana Wynne Jones titles I’d been irrationally shying away from to postpone the day when I’ll run out.

  • I had fun, I made meaningful progress towards my goals, and I didn’t feel too constrained in my reading choices.

    ***

    So maybe the lesson here is that the numeric goals I set for myself back on January were not realistic. I’d like to read more from my TBR pile for the rest of the year (ideally I’d be at 50-60% TBR titles by the end of 2015), but I also want to continue to pursue new interests and read new books I’m excited about. I feel like I did achieve that so far, no matter what the numbers say. As for library books, I wouldn’t want to give them up entirely, but not grabbing whatever strikes my fancy when I’m shelving has been good for me so far. Sticking to the 20% library books I achieved in the first quarter of 2015 is a good goal for the rest of the year. Lastly, one thing I gave up entirely were review copies, and saving very occasional exceptions for all-time favourite authors I’d like to keep it that way.

    What about you? Did you take part in the TBR dare — if so, how did you do? Do you have any strategies to keep your book acquisition habits and TBR pile under control? What works and doesn’t work for you?
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    Apr 27, 2015

    I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

    I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

    People die, I think, but your relationship with them doesn’t. It continues and is ever-changing.
    Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun — this year’s Printz Award winner — is about a pair of twins, Noah and Jude. The two are incredibly close until the year they’re thirteen. Jude is popular and outgoing, while Noah tends to keep to himself; however, their surface-level differences don’t get in the way of what they have in common, or of their profound understanding of each other. Noah draws and impresses everyone with his talent, while Jude makes mesmerizing sand sculptures. They visit museums with their art historian mother and are busy preparing their applications to art school. As with most siblings, their relationship is complicated and touched by occasional rivalries, but they’re safe in the knowledge they’re the most important person in each other’s world. Until, that is, a chain of painful events drive them apart, and the twins are left to struggle on their own.

    I’ll Give You The Sun moves backwards and forwards in time: the story of what happens the year they’re thirteen is told from Noah’s point of view, while Jude narrates events three years later, when she and her brother barely speak and their lives are unrecognizable. As we learn more about their lives — about Noah’s romance with his new neighbour Brian, about Jude’s creative impulse and the new boy in her life, about why Noah never draws anymore, and about the hidden side of the twins’ mother’s life — we begin to piece events together. And little by little, so do Noah and Jude: it’s only by breaking free of their isolation that they’re able to rethink their understanding of the past, and, as a result, to remake their present-day world.

    First of all, I’m thrilled that I’ll Give You The Sun won the Printz. It’s a beautifully written, thoughtful and moving novel, full of complex emotional truths, big ideas, and well-drawn characters. I have to confess, though, that I very nearly gave up on it fairly early on. It was only the fact that it came highly recommended by people I trust that kept me going, which I’m very grateful for. The reason why I was put off is that the early chapters seem to prop up a tiresome false dichotomy between creative people who embrace the richness and the mystery of the universe and dull-minded scientists who want to oversimplify everything. This never fails to make me sigh in exasperation, and also long to break out my beloved Feynman flower video. However, eventually it becomes clear that this is not a novel where things are necessarily what they seem, or where caricatures are allowed to stand. The twins’ artistic mother and scientist father are gradually fleshed out, and readers are given a glimpse of the growing distance between them, of the reasons why they became less than patient and generous with each other, and of how this affected their children’s account of events.

    I’ll Give You The Sun is about stories — about the narratives we turn to in order to make sense of our lives, about what we allow in and what we edit out, and about how they become increasingly complex when we make ourselves go back and reconsider them. Examining new angles allows the twins to make whatever sort of peace they can with what has passed. Additionally, the two come to realise that this is a continuous process: we rewrite our histories all the time. As Jude tells herself,
    Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life? Another son might not have heard his mother’s last words as a prophecy but as drug-induced gibberish, forgotten soon after. Another girl might not have told herself a love story about a drawing her brother made. Who knows if Grandma really thought the first daffodils of spring were lucky or if she just wanted to go on walks with me through the woods? Who knows if she even believed in her bible at all or if she just preferred a world where hope and creativity and faith trump reason? Who knows if there was ghosts (sorry, Grandma) or just the breathing, living memories of your loved ones inside you, speaking to you, trying to get your attention by any means necessary? Who knows where the hell Ralph is? (Sorry, Oscar.) No one knows.
    So we grapple with the mysteries, each in our own way.
    The big event that shakes up the twins’ lives is revealed less than a third of the way into the novel, so I have a hard time thinking of it as a big spoiler. The revelations in I’ll Give You the Sun are more subtle than that — they have to do with the characters’ emotional realities; with how they experience events whose plain facts we already know. Nevertheless, I understand that some readers might prefer not to know anything about what’s coming, so consider this a spoilers warning: I’ll talk openly about plot details from this point onwards.

    Another thing I’ll Give You the Sun is about is how death abruptly cuts you off from people, but that doesn’t mean your relationship with them doesn’t remain living and evolving for as long as you yourself are still alive. Jude slowly comes to this realisation — as she herself grows and changes, and as the facts she uncovers about the final months of her mother’s life reshape her understanding of her, her love for her is also reshaped. Finding her way back to that “continuous and ever-changing” love is essential for Jude. When her mother dies, Jude feels cut off from her when she needed her the most — in the wake of a sexual assault. But although there’s no way around the finality of death, or the life-long reality of her mother’s absence, that doesn’t mean Jude can’t continue to find meaning and comfort in the bond the two shared.

    Grief is of course different for everyone who experiences it, and the twins — as well as their father, plus Oscar and Guillermo — are examples of that. Jude’s experience was the one that resonated with me the most, though: it takes time and effort for her to be able to feel the full impact of her loss and just sit with the resulting grief and anger, instead of trying to hide from them in whatever way she can. And it takes her even longer to be ready to acknowledge this is not something she has to bear on her own. I suppose context is necessary for it to have the impact it had on me, but this bit = all the tears:
    And then it’s my turn. I’m being shoved forward, shoved right out of my skin with just how terrible — Mom ripped out of my life the very moment I needed her the most, the bottomless unconditional shielding sheltering love she had for me taken forever. I let myself feel the terrible, surrender to it finally instead of running from it, instead of telling myself it all belongs to Noah and not to me; instead of putting an index of fears and superstitions between me and it, instead of mummifying myself in layers of clothing to protect myself from it, and I’m falling forward with the force of two years of buried grief, the sorrow of ten thousand oceans breaking inside me—
    I let it. I let my heart break.
    And Noah is there, strong and sturdy, to catch me, to hold me through it, to make sure I’m safe.
    Noah and Jude’s deep and complicated love for each other is at the heart of I’ll Give You the Sun. I was talking to a friend about the novel, and she said the richness of these twins’ relationship caused Ben and Hazel from The Darkest Part of the Forest to pale in comparison, even though that’s also a very good novel. I’m glad I didn’t meet Noah and Jude first, or else I strongly suspect that what happened to my friend would have happened to me too. There’s just something about Nelson’s writing that really makes her characters’ love and its many complications come to life. It was especially moving to note how Noah and Jude shy away from each other because in the wake of their mother’s loss, their love scares them. They’re terrified by the vulnerability of it; by the fact that it’s more than they could bear to lose. It’s such a human reaction, even though closing yourself off doesn’t really help anything or anyone in the end, and it was so great to find a story that gets that right.

    As the story progresses, the twins learn to once again read each other’s actions generously; to default to trust and to love. They slowly go back to giving each other the benefit of the doubt; they forgive past hurts; they come to terms with the human imperfections of their love; they accept they both made mistakes but were genuinely doing their best. Their reconciliation feels genuine because I’ll Give You The Sun acknowledges that it can be immensely hard for people to find their way back to each other, even when they never stopped caring. But hard is not the same as impossible, and it was wonderful to see Noah and Jude get there in the end.

    I’ll Give You the Sun is also about creativity and how it helps us construct meaning, about how our life stories contain infinite angles and accommodate multiple truths, and about how art can be a way to express them. I particularly appreciated that the twins’ mother was never demonised, even though that’s often the case for women who leave their marriages. She was a person with her own life, she loved her children, and she fell in love with another man. Much like One Crazy Summer, I’ll Give You the Sun gives her space to be a human being as well as a mother, it gives Noah and Jude space to be upset, and it acknowledges that situations where people get hurt don’t require a bad guy. Hearts are fragile and get bruised even when people do their best, but patience and love get us through the rough patches.

    I’ll leave you with a song that I think occupies more or less the same emotional space as this novel. I love them both, and I’m so glad I discovered them more or less at the same time:


    They read it too: Rhapsody in Books, Chachic’s Book Nook, Shiny New Books, you?

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