Car Crashes in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature: Background information when reading I'll Give You the Sun

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I'll Give You the Sun

by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson X
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 384 pages

    Oct 2015, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Ellis Smith
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About this Book

Car Crashes in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature

This article relates to I'll Give You the Sun

Print Review

In a controversial article in The Wall Street Journal in June 2011, "Darkness Too Visible," Meghan Cox Gurdon lamented that the world of young adult literature has become too dark – a forest thick with loss, pain, death, and the gruesome details that describe them all. She offered the suggestion that such books might introduce teens to issues such as rape, suicide, and kidnapping, to name only a few, and in doing so, make them feel normal and, thus, "spread their plausibility."

Car crashes in middle grade and YA literature fall to the edges of the box Gurdon drew. They are slightly less horrendous perhaps, and, more important, tend to be accidental acts as opposed to ones perpetrated by someone intent on causing harm. But they are devastating all the same and seem to be popping up in a lot of books lately. In Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, Noah and Jude lose their mother in a car crash. In fact, the novel hinges on weaving together what happened before the crash and after. If I Stay, written by Gayle Forman in 2009 – and now a motion picture – is another great example of a car crash-focused novel. Why are these such strong vehicles – pardon the pun – for insightful, comforting middle grade and YA literature? Says Forman in a February 2010 article in The Guardian: "When you're at this age, you tend to be experiencing so much for the first time – first love, first time away from home, first heartbreak – so life is imbued with extra intensity…I think teens are drawn to books that reflect that drama, or which evoke feelings that match the emotional rollercoasters they're riding in their own lives."

In that spirit – showcasing books that embrace teens where they are at – and in the spirit of I'll Give You the Sun, here are my top five picks for beautifully written, hard-hitting middle grade and YA novels that deal, in one way or another, with car crashes.

  1. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
    Counting by 7s Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents. Suddenly Willow's world is tragically changed when her parents die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. This extraordinarily odd but endearing girl manages to push through her grief.

  2. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
    If I Stay In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck. A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

  3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
    Miseducation of Cameron Post Cameron Post feels a mix of guilt and relief when her parents die in a car accident. Their deaths mean they will never learn the truth: she's gay. Orphaned, Cameron goes to live with her old-fashioned grandmother and ultraconservative aunt Ruth. There she falls in love with her best friend, a beautiful cowgirl. When she's eventually outed, her aunt sends her to God's Promise, a religious conversion camp that is supposed to "cure" her homosexuality. At the camp, Cameron comes face to face with the cost of denying her true identity.

  4. Looking For Alaska by John Green
    Looking For Alaska Miles "Pudge" Halter is abandoning his safe, okay, boring life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." 
Pudge is surrounded by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the art of pranks and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face to face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.

  5. Whirligig by Paul Fleischman
    Whirligig New to town, Brent Bishop longs to stroll around school with the popular Brianna on his arm. But when she begs him at a party full of schoolmates, to stop hounding her, Brent's hopes are shattered. Trying to escape his humiliation, he attempts to destroy himself in a car crash — and ends up killing Lea, an innocent teen unfortunate enough to cross his path. Armed with an unlimited bus ticket and the tools he needs to memorialize Lea, Brent sets off on a journey. He rediscovers his own love of life and begins to realize how — like the pieces that form the intricate whirligigs — people come together to affect each other in surprising ways.

Filed under Reading Lists

This "beyond the book article" relates to I'll Give You the Sun. It originally ran in September 2014 and has been updated for the October 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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