I have always been a big fan of young adult novels. I don’t believe that the genre gets enough credit for how many genuine, heartfelt, incredibly original stories it produces. In December, I read two of the best young adult novels I have ever read. Which is saying a lot. Even if young adult books aren’t really your thing, I strongly encourage you to give these two a chance.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This novel centres around twins Noah and Jude, who lost their mother at the age of 14 and whose relationship has since shattered. At 16, they are barely speaking to one another. Until a mystery at the centre of their lives begins to unravel.
The prose and the format are what really set this book apart. It was some of the most original prose I have ever encountered, and I found myself re-reading sentences again and again because they were so beautiful, and structured in such a unique way. As well, it shifts between the two perspectives of Noah and Jude, which is a familiar enough narrative device. However, in Noah’s perspective, we are with the twins when they are 14, and in Jude’s perspective, we are with them at the age of 16. Having these two timelines was such an interesting and engaging way to weave the narrative together, and was one of the reasons that I so enjoyed the novel. Jandy Nelson does such a great job with the split perspective as well. I have found that a lot of novels that attempt to use this device get bogged down by an inability to distinguish between the two voices (ahem, Philippa Gregory), but that is never a problem in I’ll Give You the Sun. Noah and Jude each have a unique way of looking at the world and expressing themselves, and that makes the whole story even more powerful.
When I was done, I felt like I had been enfolded by the story, mushed up, and been reborn again. I had a book hangover for days. My first book hangover in a long while.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Cadence Sinclair Eastman has been going to her family’s island off of Martha’s Vineyard every summer for her whole life. The Sinclairs are wealthy, beautiful, and damaged, and now, they are all harboring a secret. Something happened two years ago, the summer that Cadence was 15, and Cadence has no idea what it was. All she knows is that she woke up half-naked on the beach, and sustained injuries that have haunted her for two years. No one else is talking. What happened? How will Cadence figure it out?
This book is a mystery delivered in sparse and lovely prose. It’s a great mystery, too. I had actually guessed what had really happened early on in the book, but as I continued reading, I began doubting my conclusion so much that I changed my mind more than three times. I was so off-balance and engaged, I sped through the book in about one day. It put me in mind of summers spent at our own family cabin with my own cousins, and the versions of ourselves that have disappeared. It was nostalgic and lovely and really really painful.
All in all, these were two of the best books that I read this year. What about you guys?