Cover Story: Montell Jordan
I’m sorry, is this some kind of adult book? Is Jandy Nelson a pen name for Dave Eggers? AM I ON CRAZY PILLS? Because this cover is g-d LEGIT.
Together even before they were born, twins Noah and Jude share a bond that seems unbreakable. They’re different, to be sure– Jude is a badass surfer girl, pretty and popular, while Noah is a weirdo loner, desperate to hide his growing attraction to boys– but their connection keeps these diverging worlds tethered together. Until the day they betray each other, and the universe, in turn, betrays them.
Now Noah is the king of campus, and Jude is the outcast, with only the ghost of her grandmother to keep her company. Their lives, just like the ties that bind them, are broken, and the hope of healing lies not in putting the pieces back together, but in rearranging them completely.
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You x 2
It’s impossible not to immediately fall in love with Noah, who’s only 13 when he tells his half of the story. He’s whimsical and wild with emotion, and his imagination is so bold, it threatens to explode from his body. Take, for example, this description of his family:
Because I can see people’s souls sometimes when I draw them, I know the following: Mom has a massive sunflower for a soul so big there’s hardly any room for her organs. Jude and me have one soul between us that we have to share: a tree with its leaves on fire. And Dad has a plate of maggots for his.
At one point, he compares his mind to “a secret museum,” to which I’d love to have a lifetime membership. His thoughts are electric, with dizzying heights and crushing depths, and his terror and confusion about being gay is absolutely heartbreaking. While he makes some very poor choices, I never stopped wanting to wrap him up in a huge hug to let him know that he wasn’t alone, and that it was all going to be okay.
Jude, who starts her narration at 16, is a bit more of a prickly pear. Having born more than her fair share of tragedy, she’s perfected the ice queen routine, but inside, she’s a complete mess. Her reliance on her grandmother’s spirit, not to mention her longing for the attention of her mother, invites a flood of compassion, even as she, like Noah, makes some terrible decisions.
In short, both twins are damaged, but their sparks of splendor never cease.
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Romance isn’t the central theme of this book, yet there’s still plenty of it. Noah and Jude each experience the first love of their lives, and it’s equal parts soaring and shattering. I found Noah’s experience to be more electrifying, while Jude’s felt a bit too much like insta-love for my taste. With that said, I can understand her attraction to the mysterious Oscar based on descriptions like this:
“Well, he’s too hot. Way too hot. And he knows it. Did you see the way he leans?”
“The way he what?”
“Leans against a wall like James Dean, leans.”
Overall, the romantic storylines were the weakest aspect of the novel, but it’s tough to compete with the intensity of Noah and Jude’s relationship.
Talky Talk: Blazing
Damn, that Jandy Nelson can write like nobody’s business. This is the kind of book with pages that demand to be dog-eared so they can be read over and over again. (And quoted in reviews. Seriously, the fact that I’m only including five passages shows some major restraint.) Noah and Jude’s voices are striking, but in completely different ways. With Noah, the words gush out in a flood of color:
My heart leaves, hitchhikes right out of my body, heads north, catches a ferry across the Bering Sea and plants itself in Siberia with the polar bears and ibex and long-horned goats until it turns into a teeny-tiny glacier.
Whereas Jude, hardened by grief, is more succinct, but no less powerful in her language:
No one tells you how gone gone really is, or how long it lasts.
In addtion to the potency of their words, the structure of the storytelling, which flips from Noah at 13 to Jude at 16, is incredibly dynamic, building up to explosive reveals and devastating consequences. This novel isn’t just a moving portrait of siblings, it’s a raw examination of life itself.
“Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people,” I say. “Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time.” Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things.
You can’t read that and not want to frame it, amiright?
Bonus Factor: Twins
Like most people in the world, I find twins to be super fascinating. Jude and Noah have their own private language, steeped in a history of intimacy, and the glimpses of it (their games of How Would You Rather Die, the fact that they always choose the same object in Rock, Paper, Scissors) were strangely thrilling.
Bonus Factor: Superstitions
When their grandmother died, she left Jude her “bible” of old wives’ tales and crude magic. The guidelines in this book basically rule Jude’s life, so they’re peppered throughout her narrative. Some are poignant:
Tears of mourning should be collected and then ingested to heal the soul.
While others are charmingly eccentric:
Always walk right foot first to avert calamity, which comes at you from the left.
In other news, from now on I’ll be walking right foot first, thankyouverymuch.
Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+
Noah’s burgeoning awareness of his sexuality strikes a painfully authentic chord, while his relationship with Brian, the new boy in town, feels like the fairy tale that he most definitely deserves.
Relationship Status: Serious
There’s no way to keep it casual with this book (not that I’m complaining). It’s beautiful, with a ravishing spirit and a piercing mind, but its effervescence doesn’t prevent it from delving into darkness. I was enthralled by its voice and tortured by its angst, and while its romantic gestures didn’t float my boat, its exploration of family and loss was downright mesmerizing.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Dial Books. I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review.