I have a few confessions to make pertaining to this round of the tournament. Confession #1: I absolutely, positively hated Jandy Nelson’s first title, The Sky is Everywhere. When I saw that this book had made it this far into the tournament, I balked. The writing style of that title was such that I panned it on more than one occasion during my YA Lit classes. I put it off until the end because I was pretty sure that I was going to hate it. Confession #2: I am a newly-minted gamer. I love my tabletop games like it’s nobody’s business. I’ve connected games into my life at every opportunity and got super GEEKED that I was going to be reading Guy in Real Life. My role in the tournament, though, is to take a look at these two titles and match them evenly…so, I did. As with pretty much every YA novel that I’ve come across in the past few years, I was surprised and pleasantly so.
I’ll Give You the Sun (IGYTS) is about twins Jude and Noah, art, pain, love, death and journeys. This title is full of colorful language, and I had a bit of trouble with it at first. It felt as though I was reading a magical realism title, and as a reader, I’m not the best at that whole suspend-your-questions-and-just-believe thing. As the book went on, it became enveloping. The style did its twisting and turning so I could see the real magic that was happening in the world of Lost Coves. The characters of Jude, Noah and their compatriots are fully developed. IGYTS describes the intertwined relationship between not only brother and sister, but twins. There is a kind of magic in that relationship that only those two people know; twins have been together since the first day. In this story, Jude and Noah move in different paths, but their stories seemingly cannot move forward one without the other. I love the perspective that Nelson shows when the two twins see their sibling’s relationship with their mother before and after a major incident. In the beginning of the book, Noah waxes on the fact that his mother and grandmother loved Jude best. However, as the story goes on, and time goes by, it becomes clear that Noah and his mother had a shared love through art. It is tough for siblings to have that kind of experience when they both want the same thing…love and acceptance.
Guy in Real Life similarly features love and journeys, but I’d add that this book focuses on acceptance, denial, stereotypes and relationships. But, this story’s relationships focus a bit less on family and a bit more on friends and the world of online gaming. Both Svetlana and Lesh fit into the “typical” tropes for teenagers today (I hate that idea of typical…we is who we is, dang it!). Lesh is a guy who meets a girl by kismet, and she happens to be a confident, smart and original girl gamer. He doesn’t start out the novel as a guy who is into games, but he very easily falls into online games when he is grounded. This leads him to create a character that looks a bit like (and reminds him of) the Svetlana he’s interested in in his real world. What I loved best about this book was Svetlana’s multifaceted character. I love that she embraced her own style and wasn’t worried about popularity or acceptance from anyone more than her friends and herself. She also wasn’t perfect to her family. She had an admirer in Fry, and she wasn’t afraid to punch him in the gut when he needed it. My biggest issue with this book was the ending and the stalker-from-MMORPG-thing. The end felt rushed, and it made me wonder how exactly all of that happened to come about. It was a bit disappointing to me, too, that the parents in this book seemed to be blundering and a bit out of scope. It’s sad that parents have to be an afterthought in YA sometimes.
So, without further ado, I would like to proclaim (and shock the heck out of everyone including myself) I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson the winner of this round. Kudos, Nelson, on turning a doubter into a believer. And, of course, thank you for giving us Jude, Noah, Guillermo, Dianna, Brian and Oscar.
The Winner: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson