Article published on September 1, 2015.
nb magazine reviewer Vee Freir read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and loved it, describing it as ‘very moving and totally engaging’. Read her review in full here.
We were impressed enough to make it an nb Recommended Read in the current issue and, like Vee, think it would make a great book club read. Walker Books, the publisher, put together a reading guide including questions from Jandy Nelson herself which we’ve listed for you below but which you can also save and print out for your group here.
For a limited time we have copies available absolutely free* so if you’re looking for a YA read that is more than a YA read for your reading group schedule look no further than the nudge shop.
Why do you think the author tells the story through the two voices of Noah and Jude and at two different ages, i.e. Noah at 13 and Jude at 16? What impact does this have on the development of the plot, our understanding of their characters and on the reader? What are the underpinning messages of the book?
“Love is only half the story” is the quote on the front cover of the book. What do you think this means and what do you think the other half of the story is?
Jude tells Oscar “I gave up practically the whole world for you. The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you” (p.365). What was she trying to express to him? What would you give up the sun for and why?
The book deals with the big themes in life – grief, sexuality, families, relationships and most of all love, in all its forms. Art is one of the central platforms for the expression of these themes. Discuss how the characters react to it, use it to bring meaning to their lives, make sense of the world around them, harness their creativity and ultimately help in their healing.
What did you think about the ending of the book – did it complete the story in a satisfying and believable way for the reader? How might it have ended differently? Write a different ending for the story and let a minor character narrate it.
In the book, the sculptor Guillermo Garcia is described as “the kind of man who walks into a room and all the walls fall down” (p.177). What does that mean and what does it tell you about him as a character? Can you think of any real people for whom this description might also fit?
When Noah is talking about his father, he says that he draws him “so big I can’t fit all of him on the page, so I leave off his head” (p.15). What does this say about Noah’s relationship with his dad? Does the reader get to know Dad’s character as well as the other characters and what impression does he leave on the reader?
At the beginning of the book, every time Jude and Noah played rock, scissors, paper, they always chose the same thing (p.25), whereas at the end of the book they chose differently (p.394). What does this say about their future lives and the relationship between them?
After the death of their mother and its aftermath, both twins change dramatically in their outlook, behaviour and personalities, each becoming something they are not. Why do you think this happens?
Which is your favourite character in the book and why? How do you feel the main characters deal with their grief and what impact does this have on the other?
Ghosts and the supernatural feature prominently throughout the story. How does the book manage to make Grandma Sweetwine, who is dead, such a real, solid character? Do you believe that it is the ghost of her mum that keeps breaking Jude’s sculptures and if so, why do you think she is doing it? What influence does the spirit of Oscar’s mum have?
Prophet the parrot and his “Where the hell is Ralph?” refrain is one of the humorous elements of the story. Why do you think the author included him and what part does he play?
If you had your own “invisible museum” like Noah, what would some of your own portraits and self-portraits look like? In the same vein, if you had a “bible” of superstitions like Jude, what would some of the entries be?
The Michelangelo quote that comes up in the story, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”, is also in many ways a theme that runs through the book. I had the feeling when I was writing that the characters were each metaphorically trapped in stone prisons of their own makings. How would you describe the differing and/or similar “stone prisons” of Jude, Noah, Guillermo and Dad? How do each of them finally break free?
When Jude is in Oscar’s bedroom, she comes across an essay he wrote for an art history class called “The Ecstatic Impulse of the Artist”. What do you think the essay was about? How do you think this idea might connect to the story and the characters, especially Noah? What do you think Guillermo means when he says to Jude, “I think maybe your brother is the ecstatic impulse.” Further, what do you think Sandy means when he says artists wish with their hands? Lastly, what do you think Guillermo means when he says (implies) art can remake the world? Do you think it can?
This quote by the poet Rumi is one of four that begins the novel: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Who meets in the field beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing? Do Noah and Jude? Noah and his father? Jude and her mother? Dianna and Benjamin? Discuss this quote as it pertains to the relationships in the novel.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, published by Walker Books on 2 April, 2015 (pbk)
*p&p charge applies
READING GROUP GUIDE: The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas