February 11, 2015

Jandy Nelson: Two halves make one incredible story

Interview by
We caught up with the San Francisco-based author to find out what it's like to win the Printz.
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Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun dazzled us with elegantly crafted prose and flawless narrative structure as it switched between the perspectives of twins Noah and Jude. Its captivating balance of heartbreak and hope garnered it the highest honor in YA fiction, the 2015 Printz Award.

What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Printz?
I think it was something like: HOLYHELLOHMYGODNOWAYIWONTHEPRINTZHOLYHELLOHMYGODNOWAY et cetera for about a week now and counting!

Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about the award?
This is a very hard question because I instantly and passionately wanted to tell everybody on the Earth! Barring that, Mom was the one and she was indeed the first person I told.

“I love that ‘everything’ aspect of writing about/for teenagers, all the terrible and amazing firsts all happening at once.”

Do you have a favorite past Printz winner?
So many! But I’m head over heels for A Step from Heaven by An Na, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and Looking for Alaska by John Green. Also, I must admit I haven’t read all the titles. I’ve been told on penalty of death I have to read Jellicoe Road and Going Bovine. Both are in the stack on my bed table awaiting me.

What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
I love being inside the minds/hearts of my teen narrators, love the urgency of the teen experience, that period of time when everything is so new, so dramatic, so emotional, so confusing, so funny, so raw, so honest, so everything. I love that “everything” aspect of writing about/for teenagers, all the terrible and amazing firsts all happening at once. It’s a headlong ride, and I feel really lucky to get to do it. Teens are such smart passionate readers—it’s such a joy to hear from them.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
The letters so far for Sun have been bursting with emotion and enthusiasm, and from all ages/sexes, lots of teens who are thinking about coming out or struggling with their sexuality who really relate to Noah, other teens going through tough family times and relate to Jude, others who are falling in love, and many who just respond to the kind of over-the-top passionate natures of the twins, their mistakes and triumphs, and their artistic relationship with the world. What’s been amazing is some teen readers who are artists have been sending me incredible artwork they’ve done based on the book or its characters.

Have you read or listened to past Printz acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I’m completely and utterly terrified! But I gave myself a week to be in denial, to not think about it, and then I’ll face the music. I believe I’ve heard bits and pieces of Libba Bray’s and John Green’s speeches: brilliant bits and pieces! But, of course, mixed in with the terror is a lot of excitement. The whole thing is such a thrill, a once in a lifetime thrill. I’m so glad you can’t unwin the Printz! That this will always have happened!

What’s next for you?
I’m writing another YA novel called The Fall Boys & Dizzy in Paradise about two brothers and a sister living in a hot, dusty Northern California vineyard town called Paradise. Their father mysteriously disappeared 16 years earlier, and the story begins when this strange, enigmatic girl shows up and sends all their lives into tumult. It’s kind of a relay race of a love(s) story, with some serious violin playing, food making, grape crushing, break ins and outs, dreams shattered and pieced back together, time lost, love lost and found, and a band called “Hell Hyena and the Furniture.” I’m really excited about it!


Author photo by Sonya Sones.

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