When a novel is described as poetic my red flag goes up. I interpret “poetic” to mean heavy on the emotion and style over substance. Bleh. And yet I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun, a widely-deemed-poetic book because it’s set in San Francisco and after my fun trip there I wanted to go back and I can’t right now so reading a story set there is the next best thing, sort of.
At 13, twins Noah and Jude are close and talented artists in their own way. As they grieve the loss of their grandma, they agree to their mother’s wish and apply to a fancy art school. Noah is through the roof for the chance to escape the surftards and meet some fellow freaks while popular Jude is reluctant.
Troubles with family, betrayal and boys drive them apart. Chapters alternate between Noah and Jude’s POV and the chronology is all over the place as a 17-year-old Jude narrates from the present while a 14-year-old Noah tells his side from the past.
When we meet them one and three years later it’s like they’ve swapped sulky personalities. At 17, Jude is struggling through her sculpture program because her mom’s ghost keeps breaking all of her projects. Weighed down with guilt and regret, she barely speaks to her brother, who didn’t get into the fancy school. Plus neither twin is immune to the spells of the new boy next door.
I like magic realism when it’s done well. Props to the author for trying. The purple prose is list-centric and bloated with adjectives. The story drifts like the fictional equivalent of TV cutaways and indulgent asides. The dialogue, relationships and what I think was the plot all felt fake. I didn’t like the characters so I’m glad they aren’t more fleshed out, but the bully type side characters are ridiculously one-dimensional with no wants or hints at a life outside of drinking and picking on people.
Another case of lots of people liked it and I didn’t. This one was a chore to get through. The writing is heavy-handed. So many words. Holy metaphor, it’s finally over.