by Jandy Nelson
First sentence: “This is how it all begins.”
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Content: There is some teen drinking, a (non-graphic) rape scene, and several f-bombs. That, and because of the subject matter, puts it in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.
Noah and Jude are twins, separate people but connected in thought and purpose (generally). So much so that they’ve become NoahandJude, pratically inseparable. That is, until the summer they turn 14. Then everything starts to fall apart. Jude becomes “wild”; Noah retreats into his own world until a new boy shows up next door. They end up “dividing” their parents, each vying for the other parent’s attention and love. On top of that, they are fiercely competing to get into the local prestigious art high school. It’s a mess.
Two years later, things aren’t much better. Jude made it into the school; Noah (who was arguably the better artist) did not. They’re still dealing with the aftermath of their mother’s fatal accident. They harbor secrets. And they’re no longer NoahandJude. They’re not even Noah and Jude. They’re two separate planets, who never talk to each other. It’s different from what it was before, but no better.
Did I mention that Jude sees the ghost of her dead grandmother, and senses the presence of her dead mom?
It’s thanks to the two ghosts that Jude searches out Guillermo, sculptor extraordinaire and Latino Mystical Guide, and finds not only salvation but True Love.
Yeah, the book derailed just about there.
For the record: everyone in this book is a Tortured Soul Needing Redemption. And they all find it together. I did enjoy Guillermo — in fact, he was the most interesting character — but that doesn’t change the fact that his role in the book was to cause a change in the white people around him. He was Passionate Lover, he was Father Figure, he was Spiritual Guide. And sometimes he was a living-breathing person, but those times were rare.
And don’t even get me started on the whole Soul Mate thing. Ugh.
What saved this book from being Truly Horrible was the writing — Nelson paints the world vividly, and I do have to admit that there was some good chemistry between Jude and her Soul Mate, even if that’s a trite trope and needs to be done away with. But what I really loved was the art. I loved Guillermo’s giant sculptures and the way Nelson depicted the process of art. I loved Noah’s chapters and the way he’d come up with paintings for everything. I loved how she considered fashion an art.
In the end, I did respect what Nelson was trying to do. But it’s not a perfect book by any means.