Nelson’s electrifying language and her protagonists’ shared preoccupation with the supernatural elevates the main story of I’ll Give You the Sun into an almost mythic level. Jude and Noah believe that their mother, Dianna, is a “blow-in” from another world or another planet, and their desperate love for her is reflected in how they see her as a supernatural being, even after her death. Meanwhile, their deceased Grandma Sweetwine may or may not pay regular visits to Jude, who clings to Grandma’s “bible” of superstitions, folklore, magic, and herbal cures in the face of her own grief. As the novel progresses and the circumstances of chance, coincidence, prophecy, and fate combine, Nelson argues that believing in magic can provide a balm against the pain, injustice, and trauma of loss.
Early in the novel, Nelson establishes that both Noah and Jude believe intensely in magic and the supernatural, and shows how Jude is particularly affected by these beliefs. Their recently deceased paternal grandmother, Grandma Sweetwine, was a superstitious and eccentric woman who composed a “bible” of aphorisms and maxims designed to bring its readers luck, prosperity, and health. In addition to—or perhaps because of—Grandma Sweetwine’s superstitions, the children believe that their own beautiful, ethereal mother is a “blow-in” from another realm or planet. Their rational, science-minded father, Benjamin, attempts to discourage the children from their beliefs, but Dianna encourages them, even spinning tales of how she has communicated with Grandma Sweetwine’s ghost. Against this backdrop of belief in the supernatural, Jude and Noah begin coming into their own—and the foundation provided by their mother and grandmother’s beliefs will resonate throughout the twins’ teen years as they wrestle with pain and tragedy. For instance, Jude is obsessed with playing Ouija board as a means of determining her prospects in life, and also engages Noah in a series of thought-based games which attempt to predict the future or exert control over the world around them.
After Dianna’s death, Jude throws herself into her beliefs in the supernatural as a way of coping with the pain. First off, she believes that her mother is haunting her by destroying her art projects. She misses Dianna so much that a part of her is hopeful that even if Dianna is haunting her or punishing her for her meanness towards Noah, they have maintained a connection beyond the grave. Additionally, Jude carries Grandma Sweetwine’s bible around with her and follows the wisdom in it to the letter—even when the bible recommends carrying an onion in one’s pocket at all times to ward off disease, among other strange dictums. She also begins seeing Grandma Sweetwine’s ghost. The ghost follows Jude around throughout her days, both heckling her and offering her support. Jude knows that her preoccupation with the bible is one thing, but that her ability to see a ghost is another thing entirely—still, she remains devoted to Grandma’s bible, polite to the ghost, and determined to ward off her anxieties (which come in the form of hypochondria) through the wisdom Grandma has given her.
Most everyone around her ridicules Jude’s beliefs, and, as the novel progresses and she finds creative satisfaction through her apprenticeship with Guillermo and her love for his young, damaged assistant, Oscar. Jude comes to see that perhaps her beliefs are just childish constructs meant to stave off the pain that comes with losing someone. Just when Jude’s faith wanes, however, a series of incredible coincidences restore her belief in the power of the supernatural. When Oscar reveals that his deceased mother always prophesized that he would meet the love of his life in a church—the place where he and Jude first met—Jude senses a hint both of Grandma’s aphoristic wisdom and Dianna’s ethereal, airy optimism. When she learns that Dianna, through her relationship with Guillermo, came to know Oscar—and herself predicted that he and Jude would be a good match once Oscar overcame his drinking problem—Jude feels that her mother’s hand has been guiding her all along, and that perhaps the destructive force Jude ascribed to her mother’s ghost back at CSA was actually Dianna’s way of turning Jude’s fate in a new direction.
At the end of the novel, Benjamin, desperate for a change of pace and a new start to the family, recommends that he, Noah, and Jude check out a houseboat that’s for sale nearby. Noah and Jude are elated at the idea of living on a boat, after years of Noah’s enduring sly references to his biblical name, and see the act of moving onto a real “ark” as a chance to reclaim their family’s closeness, remake the world, and rise above the floodwaters of their grief. Additionally, in the novel’s final pages, Grandma Sweetwine’s ghost reminds Jude that she is here to stay. This symbolizes that even though Jude has grown past needing the trappings of her grandmother’s spiritualism and superstitions in order to cope with her own pain and loss, Jude is still intimately connected to the spirit world; her steadfast faith has been rewarded, and she will be able to continue to reap the wisdom and palliative, comforting benefits of the everyday “magic” of her departed family members.
In the novel’s ending, Nelson effectively rewards Noah and Jude’s beliefs in magic and the supernatural. Through a series of shocking coincidences, metaphoric changes, and indeed the fulfilment of several prophecies, Jude and Noah come to a happy end in spite of all their suffering and begin to remake their relationship, their family, and their faith in goodness.
Magic and the Supernatural ThemeTracker
Magic and the Supernatural Quotes in I’ll Give You the Sun
That’s when he started telling me I could say no and that’s when I didn’t. Then his whole body was pressing me into the hot sand, burying me in it. I kept thinking, it’s okay, I can handle this. I can. It’s okay, okay, okay. But it wasn’t and I couldn’t.
I didn’t know you could get buried in your own silence. And then it was over. And then everything was.
There’s more, but I’m not going to get into it now. Just know: I cut off three feet of blond hair and swore away boys forever be cause after this happened with Zephyr, my mother died. Right after. It was me. I brought the bad luck to us.
This boycott isn’t whimsy. To me, boys don’t smell like soap or shampoo or cut grass or sweat from soccer practice or suntan lotion or the ocean from hours spent in the green curl of a wave anymore, they smell like death.
“This sculpture needs to be made so much you cry like this?”
I turn around. He’s leaning against the wall by the painting of the kiss, his arms crossed.
“Yes,” I gasp out, then say more calmly, “Yes.” Is he changing his mind? The sob begins to retreat.
He’s stroking his chin. His expression softens. “You need to make this sculpture so badly, you will risk your young life by sharing space with a disease-carrying cat?”
“Yes. Totally, yes. Please.”
“You are sure you want to forsake the warm, moist breath of clay for the cold, unforgiving eternity of stone.”
“I am sure.” Whatever that means.
“Come back tomorrow afternoon. Bring your portfolio and a sketchpad. And tell your brother to give you back the sun, trees, stars, all of it already. I think you need.”
“I’ve tried everything to get through to her, Guillermo. Absolutely everything. I have this weird book and I scour it for ideas nonstop. I’ve done it all. I’ve slept with her jewelry under my pillow. I’ve stood on the beach at midnight, holding up a picture of the two of us to a blue moon. I’ve written letters to her and put them in her coat pockets, in red mailboxes. I’ve thrown messages into storms. I recite her favorite poem to her every night before I go to bed. And all she does is break what I make. That’s how angry she is.” I’ve started to sweat. “It would kill me if she broke this.” My lips are trembling. Covering my mouth, I add, “It’s the one thing I have.”
“This afternoon I teach you to use the power tools. With these you must be so, so careful. The chisel, like life, allows for second chances. With the saws and drills, often there is no second chance.”
I stop walking. “You believe that? About second chances? In life, I mean.” […]
“Of course, why not? Even God, he have to make the world twice.” His hands take to the air. “He make the first world, decide it is a very terrible world he made, so he destroy with the flood. Then he try again, start it all over with—”
“With Noah,” I say, finishing his sentence.
“Yes, so if God can have two tries, why not us? Or three or three hundred tries.” He laughs under his breath. “You will see, only with the diamond blade circular saw do you have one chance.” He strokes his chin. “But even then sometimes you make a catastrophic mistake, you think I am going to kill myself because the sculpture is ruined, but in the end it come out more incredible than had you not made the mistake. This is why I love the rocks. When I sculpt with clay, it feel like cheating. It is too easy. It has no will of its own. The rocks are formidable. They stand up to you. It is a fair fight. Sometimes you win. Sometimes they win. Sometimes when they win, you win.”
Dad drove us to the post office to mail off the applications. We couldn’t find a parking spot so Dad and Noah waited in the car while I went in. That’s when I did it. I just did it.
I only mailed mine.
I took from my brother the thing he wanted most in the world. What kind of person does that?
Not that it matters, but I went back to the post office the next day, ran all the way there, but the garbage had been emptied. All his dreams got taken out with the trash. Mine went straight to CSA.
I kept telling myself I would tell Noah and Dad. I would tell them at breakfast, after school, at dinner, tomorrow, on Wednesday. I would tell Noah in time so he could reapply, but I didn’t. I was so ashamed—the kind that feels like suffocating—and the longer I waited, the more the shame grew and the more impossible it got to admit what I’d done. Guilt grew too, like a disease, like every disease. There weren’t enough diseases in Dad’s library. Days kept passing, then weeks, and then, it was too late. I was too scared if I confessed, I’d lose Dad and Noah forever, too cowardly to face it, to fix it, to make it right.
This is why my mother destroys everything I make. This is why she can’t forgive me.
“[Oscar] didn’t save my life and it doesn’t matter how high it is.” [Noah is] getting drunker by the minute, talking with two tongues now. “It’s Mom who keeps me up. It’s like I have a parachute on. Like I can practically fly.” He makes a slow swoosh with his hand through the air. “I sail all the way down so incredibly slowly. Every time.”
My mouth falls open. Yes, he does. I’ve seen it.
This is why he keeps jumping then, so Mom will break his fall?
“Okay. So once upon a time, I saw this cubist portrait my brother did of you and had to have it.” I look at him. “Had to have it. It was love at first sight.” He smiles. “He and I were always playing this game where we’d swap parts of the world for others in a quest for universe domination. He was winning. We’re . . . competitive, that’s the nice way of putting it. Anyway, he didn’t want me to have you. I had to give up almost everything. But it was worth it. I kept you here.” I show him the spot where the picture hung by my bed. “I would stare and stare at you and wish you were real and imagine you coming to that window, just like you did tonight.”
He bursts out laughing. “That’s incredible! We’re absolutely split-aparts.”
“I don’t know if I want a split-apart,” I say honestly. “I think I need my own soul.”
“How do you feel about moving? Not out of Lost Cove but to another house. […] A houseboat.” I can’t decide what’s more amazing: the words coming out of Dad’s mouth or the expression on his face. […] “I think we need an adventure. The three of us together.”
“You want us to live on a boat?” I ask.
“He wants us to live on an ark, ” Noah answers, awe in his voice.
“I do!” Dad laughs. “That’s exactly right. I’ve always wanted to do this.” Really? News to me. Um, who is this man? “I just did some research and you will not believe what’s for sale down by the marina.” He goes to his briefcase and pulls out some pictures he must’ve printed from the Internet.
“Oh wow,” I say. This is no rowboat. It is an ark.
“An architect owned it previously,” Dad tells us. “Renovated the whole thing, did all the woodwork and stained glass herself. Incredible, isn’t it? Two stories, three bedrooms, two baths, great kitchen, skylights, wraparound decks on both floors. It’s a floating paradise.”
Noah and I must register the name of the floating paradise at the exact same moment, because we both blurt out, imitating Mom, “Embrace the mystery, Professor.”
The name of this houseboat is The Mystery.
I glance around the room, sensing Mom so much, certain this is what she wanted. She knew we each held an essential part of the story that needed to be shared. She wanted me to know she saw the sculptures and only Guillermo could tell me that. She wanted Guillermo and Dad to hear the truth from Noah. She wanted me to tell Noah about CSA and maybe I wouldn’t have found the courage if I hadn’t come to Guillermo, if I hadn’t picked up a chisel and hammer. She wanted us in Guillermo’s life, and he in ours, because we are, each one of us for the other, a key to a door that otherwise would’ve remained locked forever.
Our connection is still so natural, though now, for me, it’s tinged with guilt because of Dad. I turn back to my clay model, start caressing my mother’s shoulder into shape, her upper arm. “It’s like some part of me knew,” I tell him, working the bend of her elbow. “I don’t know what I knew, but I knew I was supposed to be here. You made me feel better too. So much better. I was so locked in.”
“This is what I think,” he says. “I think maybe Dianna, she break your bowls, so you come find a stone carver.”
I look at him. “Yeah,” I say, the back of my neck tingling. “Me too.”
Because who knows? Who knows anything? Who knows who’s pulling the strings? Or what is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life? Another son might not have heard his mother’s last words as a prophecy but as drug-induced gibberish, forgotten soon after. Another girl might not have told herself a love story about a drawing her brother made. Who knows if Grandma really thought the first daffodils of spring were lucky or if she just wanted to go on walks with me through the woods? Who knows if she even believed in her bible at all or if she just preferred a world where hope and creativity and faith trump reason? Who knows if there are ghosts (sorry, Grandma) or just the living, breathing memories of your loved ones inside you, speaking to you, trying to get your attention by any means necessary? Who knows where the hell Ralph is? (Sorry, Oscar.) No one knows.
So we grapple with the mysteries, each in our own way.