In I’ll Give You The Sun, Jude and her twin brother are barely speaking after being close as can be. The first half of the story is told by Noah; the second by Jude.
Because we’re focusing this weekend on queer YA, this snippet focuses a bit on the queer content within the story, and so is slightly spoiler-y, though out of context, it doesn’t mean much. (You could say we’re part of a secret special organization called Virs Deity, who wants to share especially queer snippets of books, because queerness is important.) But hey, you have been warned.
But sometimes I think Dad suspects. Sometimes I think the toaster suspects.
Jude jostles my leg under the table with her foot to get my attention back from the salt shaker I realize I’ve been staring down. She nods toward Mom, whose eyes are now closed and whose hands are crossed over her heart. Then toward Dad, who’s looking at Mom like her eyebrows have crawled down to her chin. We bulge our eyes at each other. I bite my cheek not to laugh. Jude does too—she and me, we share a laugh switch. Our feet press together under the table.
“Well?” Jude prods. “The message?”
Mom opens her eyes, winks at us, then closes them and continues in a séance-y woo-woo voice. “So, I breathed in the flowery air and there was a kind of shimmering …” She swirls her arms like scarves, milking the moment. This is why she gets the professor of the year award so much — everyone always wants to be in her movie with her. We lean in for her next words, for The Message from Upstairs, but then Dad interrupts, throwing a whole load of boring on the moment.
He’s never gotten the professor of the year award. Not once. No comment.
“It’s important to let the kids know you mean all this metaphorically, honey,” he says, sitting straight up so that his head busts through the ceiling. In most of my drawings, he’s so big, I can’t fit all of him on the page, so I leave off the head.
Mom lifts her eyes, the amusement wiped off her face. “Except I don’t mean it metaphorically, Benjamin.” Dad used to make Mom’s eyes shine; now he makes her grind her teeth. I don’t know why. “What I meant quite literally,” she says/grinds, “is that the inimitable Grandma Sweetwine, dead and gone, was in the car, sitting next to me, plain as day.” She smiles at Jude. “In fact, she was all dressed up in one of her Floating Dresses, looking spectacular.” The Floating Dress was Grandma’s dress line.
“Oh! Which one? The blue?” The way Jude asks this makes my chest pang for her.
“No, the one with the little orange flowers.”
“Of course,” Jude replies. “Perfect ghost-wear. We discussed what her afterlife attire would be.” It occurs to me that Mom’s
making all this up because Jude can’t stop missing Grandma. She hardly left her bedside at the end. When Mom found them that final morning, one asleep, one dead, they were holding hands. I thought this was supremely creepy but kept it to myself. “So . . .” Jude raises an eyebrow. “The message?”
“You know what I’d love?” Dad says, huffing and puffing himself back into the conversation so that we’re never going to find out what the freaking message is. “What I’d love is if we could finally declare The Reign of Ridiculous over.” This, again. The Reign he’s referring to began when Grandma moved in. Dad, “a man of science,” told us to take every bit of superstitious hogwash that came out of his mother’s mouth with a grain of salt. Grandma told us not to listen to her artichoke of a son and to take those grains of salt and throw them right over our left shoulders to blind the devil.
Then she took out her “bible”—an enormous leather-bound book stuffed with batshit ideas (aka: hogwash)—and started to preach the gospel. Mostly to Jude.
Dad lifts a slice of pizza off his plate. Cheese dives over the edges. He looks at me. “How about this, huh, Noah? Who’s a little relieved we’re not having one of Grandma’s luck-infused stews?”
I remain mum. Sorry, Charlie. I love pizza, meaning: Even when I’m in the middle of eating pizza, I wish I were eating pizza, but I wouldn’t jump on Dad’s train even if Michelangelo were on it. He and I don’t get on, though he tends to forget. I never forget. When I hear his big banging voice coming after me to watch the 49ers or some movie where everything gets blown up or to listen to jazz that makes me feel like my body’s on backward, I open my bedroom window, jump out, and head for the trees.
Occasionally when no one’s home, I go into his office and break his pencils. Once, after a particularly toilet-licking Noah the Broken Umbrella Talk, when he laughed and said if Jude weren’t my twin he’d be sure I’d come about from parthenogenesis (looked it up: conception without a father), I snuck into the garage while everyone was sleeping and keyed his car.
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 in her for 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.
Jude says to him, “Do you think Grandma didn’t just hear you insult her cooking?”
“That would be a resounding no,” Dad replies, then hoovers into the slice. The grease makes his whole mouth gleam.
Jude stands. Her hair hangs all around her head like lightcicles. She looks up at the ceiling and declares, “I always loved your cooking, Grandma.”
Mom reaches over and squeezes her hand, then says to the ceiling, “Me too, Cassandra.”
Jude smiles from the inside out.
Dad finger-shoots himself in the head.
Mom frowns—it makes her look a hundred years old. “Embrace the mystery, Professor,” she says. She’s always telling Dad this, but she used to say it different. She used to say it like she was opening a door for him to walk through, not closing one in his face. “I married the mystery, Professor,” he answers like always, but it used to sound like a compliment.
We all eat pizza. It’s not fun. Mom’s and Dad’s thoughts are turning the air black. I’m listening to myself chew, when Jude’s foot finds mine under the table again. I press back.
“The message from Grandma?” she interjects into the tension, smiling hopefully.
Dad looks at her and his eyes go soft. She’s his favorite too. Mom doesn’t have a favorite, though, which means the spot is up for grabs.
“As I was saying.” This time Mom’s using her normal voice, husky, like a cave’s talking to you. “I was driving by CSA, the fine arts high school, this afternoon and that’s when Grandma swooped in to say what an absolutely perfect fit it would be for you two.” She shakes her head, brightening and becoming her usual age again. “And it really is. I can’t believe it never occurred to me. I keep thinking of that quote by Picasso: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once one grows up.’” She has the bananas look on her face that happens in museums, like she’s going to steal the art. “But this. This is a chance of a lifetime, guys. I don’t want your spirits to get all tamped down like . . .” She doesn’t finish, combs a hand through her hair—black and bombed- out like mine—turns to Dad. “I really want this for them, Benja- min. I know it’ll be expensive, but what an oppor—”
“That’s it?” Jude interrupts. “That’s all Grandma said? That was the message from the afterlife? It was about some school?” She looks like she might start crying.
Not me. Art school? I never imagined such a thing, never imagined I wouldn’t have to go to Roosevelt, to Asshat High with everyone else. I’m pretty sure the blood just started glowing inside my body.
(Self-Portrait: A Window Flies Open in My Chest)
Mom has the bananas look again. “Not just any school, Jude. A school that will let you shout from the rooftops every single day for four years. Don’t you two want to shout from the rooftops?”
“Shout what?” Jude asks.
This makes Dad chuckle under his breath in a thistly way. “I don’t know, Di,” he says. “It’s so focused. You forget that for the rest of us, art’s just art, not religion.” Mom picks up a knife and thrusts it into his gut, twists. Dad forges on, oblivious. “Anyway, they’re in seventh grade. High school’s still a ways away.”
“I want to go!” I explode. “I don’t want a tamped-down spirit!” I realize these are the first words I’ve uttered outside my head this entire meal. Mom beams at me. He can’t talk her out of this. There are no surftards there, I know it. Probably only kids whose blood glows. Only revolutionaries.
Mom says to Dad, “It’ll take them the year to prepare. It’s one of the best fine arts high schools in the country, with topnotch academics as well, no problem there. And it’s right in our backyard!” Her excitement is revving me even more. I might start flapping my arms. “Really difficult to get in. But you two have it. Natural ability and you already know so much.” She smiles at us with so much pride it’s like the sun’s rising over the table. It’s true. Other kids had picture books, we had art books. “We’ll start museum and gallery visits this weekend. It’ll be great. You two can have drawing contests.”
Jude barfs bright blue fluorescent barf all over the table, but I’m the only one who notices. She can draw okay, but it’s different. For me, school only stopped being eight hours of daily stomach surgery when I realized everyone wanted me to sketch them more than they wanted to talk to me or bash my face in. No one ever wanted to bash Jude’s face in. She’s shiny and funny and normal — not a revolutionary — and talks to everybody. I talk to me. And Jude, of course, though mostly silently because that’s how we do it. And Mom because she’s a blow-in. (Quickly, the evidence: So far she hasn’t walked through a wall or picked up the house with her mind or stopped time or anything totally off-the-hook, but there’ve been things. One morning recently, for instance, she was out on the deck like usual drinking her tea and when I got closer I saw that she’d floated up into the air. At least that’s how it looked to me. And the clincher: She doesn’t have parents. She’s a foundling! She was just left in some church in Reno, Nevada, as a baby. Hello? Left by them.) Oh, and I also talk to Rascal next door, who, for all intents and purposes, is a horse, but yeah right.
Really, most of the time, I feel like a hostage.
Love that excerpt? You can win a copy of I’ll Give You The Sun in our Queer YA Scrabble prize pack! We here at YA Interrobang have partnered with the authors of Clan Hydra to bring you the most awesome prize box imaginable. In addition to a signed paperback copy of All The Devils Here, Laura Lam donated a signed paperback copy of Shadowplay. Tess Sharpe donated a signed paperback copy of Far From You – with a specially written short story accompanying it! Robin Talley donated a signed paperback copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves, along with some swag. You will also be entered to win a paperback copy of Christopher Hawthorne Moss’ Beloved Pilgrim, a paperback copy of Matthew J. Metzger’s Vivaldi in the Dark and Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun.
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