This outstanding book just blew me away. It’s about a set of fraternal twins, a boy Noah and a girl Jude, who take turns narrating the story. And it’s about the power of art to inform perspective, not just in a medium, but as a medium, as a way of interpreting the world. And in fact, Noah and Jude’s parents grow apart as their epistemology diverges: their dad, a doctor, is wedded to the empirical while their mom embraces the spiritual, and all its messy glorious manifestation in color and form.
Jude and Noah have always been so close that they feel like they are only half-people when apart; together, they make up one complete and whole person. But at age thirteen, as the two prepare to apply for a special school for the arts, there are radical changes in their lives, and by the time they are sixteen, they barely speak to one another. Noah’s chapters are from the time they are thirteen, and Jude’s from when they are sixteen. But they carry the action forward linearly, nevertheless. And as the story progresses, all the secrets about the lives of the characters gradually come to light.
Discussion: There are a number of love stories that go on simultaneously in this book, focused on several different kinds of love. They are all brimming with intense emotion and hope and hurt and surprise, and range from the split-apart whole of the twins to the idea of soulmates who are split apart by the gods, and spend their lives looking for each other. Only the luckiest humans succeed in finding them.
There are also interconnected themes about being true to one’s soul; the wisdom or folly of showing that inner spirit to someone else; and the way a portrait artist can reveal someone’s inner self by studying someone enough to see it. It is only then that the face comes alive, and no matter how simple or few the lines, no matter how “realistic” or “impressionistic,” people can recognize the essence of the person in the picture.
Noah, who has a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor, describes many of his experiences by what a portrait of someone would look like at any particular moment: “Self-Portrait: The Boy Hiding Inside the Boy Hiding Inside the Boy”; “Portrait: Mom and Dad with Screeching Tea Kettles for Heads”; “Portrait: Jude Braiding Boy After Boy into Her Hair”.”
Jude, on the other hand, exposes her innermost thoughts by conversations with her dead grandmother, and by spouting quotations from the sayings her grandmother collected in her bible. Jude is also very funny in a different way than Noah, using superstition to try to control reality, because a more reason-based approach hasn’t been working out so well.
Evaluation: I could go on and on about the many wonderful aspects of this book, but I would hate to give it all away. Though the subjects covered in this book are heavy ones: death, grief, betrayal, homosexuality, jealousy, and fractured family dynamics – at the same time, this is a book of soaring positive emotions: passion, love, friendship, and forgiveness; all drawn (in a double sense) with talent, humor and compassion. I went through almost a whole packet of stickies marking passages I wanted to remember, including some that took my breathe away with their unexpectedness or cleverness or insight. Highly recommended!
Published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014
Note: This book won the prestigious 2015 Printz Award.