I’ll Give You the Sun

Hi everyone! Oh my god it’s November. Er. . .Happy late Halloween? As you can probably see, the book today is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, which gave me many many feelings and was amazing and agh let’s just get to the review.

I’ll Give You the Sun focuses on twins Noah and Jude, who are so close they think of themselves as NoahandJude, in sync. They’re connected, cell for cell, even when Noah’s bullied by the “surftards” of their Northern California town and Jude’s hailed by them as a daredevil. At least, they were at thirteen. But as the years pass, everything begins to change, and at age sixteen, both the twins are deeply broken and split apart. And then Jude meets a crazy sculptor and his charming model and everything changes (again).

The narration of the story skips around, so while Noah narrates the earlier years, Jude tells the story of the later ones. I have a lot of feelings about this book, so I’m going to attempt to break it down into the various facets:

The Narration

Noah:

13-year-old Noah does not have it easy, which is evident from page one (seriously). He spends most of his time drawing, weaving the colors of what he sees into miraculous, genius pictures, and trying not to get killed by the “reigning neighborhood sociopaths,” Zephyr and Fry. Noah just wants to get into CSA, an art school where he’s certain he’ll find other revolutionaries like himself. And when a startling, fascinating new boy Brian moves in next door, Noah’s got even more to think about (and draw).

One of my favorite things about Noah, not to mention the book in general, is his voice. His voice is a work of art in and of itself. His narration is so visual, which is incredibly appropriate for his character, and the world through his eyes is stunning, full of color and magic. (Well, the nature world. Not the people world.) Plus, his artwork. It’s driving me insane that it doesn’t actually exist, because I want to see some of the things he came up with so very badly. I loved Noah almost immediately, and I almost wish I’d gotten more of his narration before the book ended.

Jude:

While I wasn’t as drawn to Jude’s narration as I was to Noah’s, it still sucked me in and kept me interested. Her voice is super well-written and unique, like Noah’s, and is intermixed with a number of odd superstitions, such as “If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply.” Her character is multi-layered, with numerous facets, from her love of surfing to her clashes with their mother over being that girl. Jude at 13 loves to court danger, but at 16, all she really wants to do is repair the relationships that have been damaged over the years.

The Plot

The thing about this book is that it encompasses a lot. The characters are all connected in ways I never would guessed, and there is so much going on. I just imagine all these plot elements hanging in the air, and Jandy Nelson connecting all of them with pieces of string. It kind of blows my mind to think about it, but she pulls it off beautifully. And the characters were all linked by this invisible web and things happened to them and oh my god FEELINGS.

The Characters

One thing that I find unique about I’ll Give You the Sun is how many of the characters are so very developed. Usually I’ve found that books have the main characters, and then there are the side characters, who, while awesome, aren’t as delved-into. The reader doesn’t get a good look at what goes on inside them. And while I definitely don’t mind that, I found that I’ll Give You the Sun kind of steps outside of that formula–we get to see more of the side characters than I think we’re used to seeing. They’re important in ways one wouldn’t initially expect them to be.

That being said, I loved the characters very much. Each is unique, and each harbors his or her own private grief, in a way that Jandy Nelson makes incredibly real. They’re all flawed, which just makes them even more human. Noah is without a doubt my favorite, but I still loved many of the others, like the sculptor Guillermo Garcia and his assistant/model, Oscar. Noah and Jude’s mother is really something–she bursts off the page like the artwork she loves so fiercely. I also really liked Brian. He and Noah make my little heart do a tap dance of happy.

The Art

Another thing about I’ll Give You the Sun is what a big part of the book art is. Noah and Jude’s mother is an art professor/author, and both of the twins are artistic in their own ways as well. I really enjoyed reading about the different pieces of art that factor into the characters’ lives, and was also very excited when I realized the Magritte Noah rambles about on page 86 is the Magritte responsible for “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The bits and pieces about art are just another thing that makes the book unique, and you can visit the Gallery page of Jandy Nelson’s website to find more.

All in all, I’ll Give You the Sun is an amazing book. It sucks you in and makes you feel for the characters, and it’s the kind of book that makes you feel like simply describing it will never do it justice. So go read it. It’s pretty awesome.

Hope you’re having a wonderful start to November!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “When people fall in love, they burst into flames.” —I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

P.S. Also, that is an A++ title and cover.

P.P.S. “To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts” by Matt Nathanson is totally Jude’s theme song.

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This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl

Hi, everyone! Remember when I wrote that post a couple weeks ago aboutĀ This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl? Well, I got the book. I finished the book. And I swear I’m going to try to be somewhat intellectual and coherent about this, but. . .we’ll see, I guess?

The first thing I noticed about this book when I pulled it out of the packaging and flipped through it was the presentation. First of all, there’s that gorgeous cover, featuring Esther’s smiling face. šŸ™‚ The pages are color-coded depending on their content–diary entries, essays, posts on Esther’s CaringBridge website, and more. And. . .I can’t even describe the awesomeness. See for yourself:

TSWGO Collage 1TSWGO Collage 2TSWGO Collage 6TSWGO Collage 7I took a lot of pictures. But there’s a lot of gorgeous there. Now, on to the deeper stuff. . .

The thing abut this book is that it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s so expansive and unique, from containing samples of Esther’s artwork to transcripts of her YouTube videos. It’s hard to give a description that could possibly encompass everything held within This Star Won’t Go Out‘s pages, from diary entries to essays to stories to blog posts. But, anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Esther Grace Earl, born on August 3rd, 1994, was an extremely empathetic, loving, and creative person who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 12 years old. Many of you have probably already heard of Esther, who also became friends with John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. Esther became Internet-famous when John featured her in a video on his and his brother Hank’s YouTube channel, but it has been said many times that John’s book isn’t her story. But This Star Won’t Go Out is.

The book follows the trail of Esther’s life, starting out with a look into her earlier years and then going deeper, starting in 2007. It evolves by showing various facets of her day-to-day life: Writing notes to family members, watching Doctor Who with her brother Graham, visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston, and more.

When John Green said in this video about the book that Esther had a voice, he wasn’t kidding. I could still hear her distinctive tone in my head after closing the pages, playing in the background of my mind. Every one of her words is infused with her personality–whether she’s writing a diary entry about being upset, a Happy Mother’s Day note to her mom, or a funny page in a journal she shared with some of her friends that she met online.

Esther becomes so real in these pages. She is so alive through her writing and others’; she lives and breathes and loves in the words. As I kept reading, it became more and more impossible not to believe that she was at home, typing in an online chat or making a funny YouTube video.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were the parts concerning Esther and the group of friends she met on the Internet, collectively called Catitude. Keeping in touch through chats and Skype, they would stay up late into the night talking with each other, about all kinds of things. From the essays included in the book, and from Esther herself, it can be seen how strong Catitude’s friendships really are. I loved reading about these awesome people and how much they genuinely care for each other and love each other. It’s the kind of friendships that are truly valuable and real, and it’s so powerful and lovely to read about.

It feels like one of the absolutely best parts of the book–yes, one that made me cry–was the Make-a-Wish weekend. For her Wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Esther opted to have an IRL (in real life) weekend with her friends from Catitude and beyond, staying in a hotel in Boston. They played games, cuddled, had espresso, and hung out. (John Green joined them and made a video here.) Of the weekend, Catitude member Lindsay Ballantyne said, “Hours were spent cuddling, gorging ourselves on candy, and laughing at nonsense. Mostly cuddling. After all, that’s what the trip was for: spending time with people you love and finding little ways to show that you loved them.” (Page 262)

That love–that complete feeling of caring for those around you–just pours from the book. Especially from those parts of it.

When we review books, we often focus on the big, important stuff–plot, writing, clarity, whether it makes sense, etc. And those are all vitally important, majorly important. But (and I don’t even know if I’m saying this right) the book has to have a feeling, too. I think it has to have some sort of emotion to it, some sort of liveliness that can truly make it that thing we all want in life–a good book. When I reread the end of Eleanor & ParkĀ a couple nights ago, I could feel an ache in my stomach. When I think about SPOILER SPOILER in The Fault in Our Stars, I’m just like GAH. These books hit us and knock us over and make us feel, because they have feeling. But even that’s not exactly like This Star Won’t Go Out.Ā This Star Won’t Go Out has a similar effect, but somehow it’s different–this book is about a girl named Esther Grace Earl, and, very much because of this, it’s also about love. It’s about loving someone completely and absolutely and unconditionally and that love is everywhere. It’s in the essays and the blog posts and the introductions and it pours out of the book and into the reader. It makes itself known. (As evidenced by the fact that I’m tearing up.)

Love is at the core of this book. That’s one of the biggest reasons that you should read it, because you shouldn’t miss out on that, and you shouldn’t miss out on Esther.

I know I’m not going to be able to get all that this book is down into a blog post, even a mammoth one. I can’t completely describe how I like Esther’s fiction, that her father’s comparison of her and John Green to a companion and the Doctor gave me so many feelings, that her family started a non-profit in her honor that’s really, really awesome. That’s why you have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that it’s awesome, it’s wonderful, and, of course, it’s supermegafoxyawesomehot.

This is a book I can honestly say everyone should read. Esther Grace Earl should be heard, and other people deserve to hear her. I’m so glad that her family and friends put this together and shared her with the world. I’m really thankful for that.

And to Esther. Thank you for sharing the gift of yourself with the world. Thank you for changing it for the better, and for continuing to do so. Thank you for existing and being you. Nobody could ask for more.

Rest in Awesome, Esther Grace. I love you to infinity and beyond.

Some Quotes (because I can’t pick just one):

“I’m not sure if it was entirely sadness that caused the tears, but there was so much love. And that’s all that mattered. Despite the fear, despite the sadness, despite the pain, there was love. To me, that’s how Esther was. She was all things human: imperfect, flawed, scared. But to me, what makes her so remarkable is that she was also so, so full of love and so willing and eager to share it.

Catitude continues to be imperfect, flawed, and scared, but we have a lot more love in our midst thanks to Esther. And we love her so much for that. I love her so much for that. I miss you, E.” –Teryn Gray (Page 270)

“I was just thinking how I don’t know if I’ll live. I’m so scared. God means so much to me, but I wish He could heal me. Is that vain? selfish? stupid? That I want to be better is, I think, any sick child’s wish. You know how God especially loves children? I’m a child–right? Well, I just want him to lift me up and hug me, like in all those pictures of Jesus and the children . . . Is that too much to ask for? Maybe so, I don’t know.” –Esther, diary entry (Page 71)

“Sometimes I just sit and watch the chat and everyone is so funny and intelligent and caring for one another. It’s like this truest, purest, most wonderful form of love and friendship. I don’t know. It’s just the best. And Esther was part of that. She was that. The best.” –Alysia Kozbial (Page 203)

“So I keep going between wanting to use correct grammar, punctuation, capitalizing skills and overall good writing, and not worrying about it. See, that night there was a briiiiiilliant LOL VIDEO! I meant sentence. bah aha oh man #nerd” –Esther, Catitude Stalker Notebook (Page 217)

And finally, here is one of Esther’s YouTube videos, and a video of the Wizard Rock band Harry and the Potters performing their song The Weapon with the crowd at the TSWGO launch event:

This version is pretty awesome, too, and this is a great song written for Esther, also.

I hope you all have a great week, and stay safe!

Love you all,

Nora

Two Boys Kissing

Hello again! If this book looks familiar, that’s because I’ve already gushed about it here. But that wasn’t enough. It deserves more.

(Unfortunately, this post has actually been languishing in my Drafts for months. Which is horrible, considering how much I absolutely love the book. I am ashamed.)

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, revolves around several characters. Harry and Craig are trying to set the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss–32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds. (WHOA.) Peter and Neil are dating, whiling away companionable hours in bookstores and on the sofa, watching movies. For Cooper, such hours don’t seem to be in reach. In fact, they’re practically in a parallel universe. Instead, Cooper spends his time online and on apps, flirting with strangers and hoping he feels something, for once. Avery and Ryan meet at a gay prom, and that’s the start of something (they hope). Tariq is friends with Harry and Craig, and he’s trying to help them, whilst trying to survive himself.

All of these characters are trying to navigate love, the times, and life itself. They’re trying to be themselves and to have others be okay with that. They’re trying to live, and this book is a snapshot of what that’s like for them right now. Harry and Craig kissing, Cooper being glued to his phone. . .their individual lives and how they interact are the focus of the story. And, honestly? The result is fantastic.

Each of these characters is unique and well-drawn. They’re special, each standing out in his own way. They all are deep and real, and their stories are compelling and captivating, showing pain and love and hate. There’s brutality and feelings and music and books and GAH. I cared about them so much. (Not to mention the fact that I completely agree with Peter and Neil’s idea of fun. Browsing the Young Adult sections of bookstores? Yes, please.)

But the narration of this story adds so much, too. The way it’s done–in the voices of a former gay generation, who fought prejudice and injustice and many of whom lost their lives to AIDS–contributes a whole new dimension to the various plots, as well as insights, so many insights. (I was tearing up as I typed this. No, really.) It’s painful and honest, and the writing is so amazingly beautiful in and of itself that I wanted to cry because it was so great. The way the experiences of the characters are described is perfect. Levithan’s writing is gorgeous and I don’t even know how to fully describe it. I can’t do it justice.

IT’S THAT GOOD.

The characters’ lives and their stories are revealed masterfully, complete with revelations and feelings and yes yes yes yes it was amazing. It’s funny, serious, and so important. Really. I don’t even know how to fully articulate my feelings for this book, because they are the kind of feelings you don’t know how to write about. This is the kind of book that you just want to share. You want to shout its name from the rooftops, and you want to buy a million and one copies just so you can push it into every pair of hands you see.

David Levithan, I will literally kneel down and worship the ground on which you stand. Everything was just amazing. Get the book. You should get the book. GET THE BOOK.

NOW, PLEASE.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you’d never have any doubt abut how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are.” —Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

P.S. If you need more convincing, there are more amazing (spoiler-free) quotes to be found here. BUT FORGET MORE CONVINCING. JUST GET THE BOOK ALREADY.

P.P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I now have a Tumblr. Yes, ’tis true! I won’t be posting full blog posts there, but I’ll be reblogging book-related things, fandom stuff, etc. Please note: Since I’m reblogging stuff that I didn’t write, there may be the occasional curse word. Have a great weekend, everybody!

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.