The story of a girl, a boy, and the universe.
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectation. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store – for both of us.
The universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
I’ve done it. I’ve finally finished another YA book after the void that Our Chemical Hearts left. The successful author? Nicola Yoon and her contemporary YA novel The Sun is Also a Star.
A huge part of this book’s appeal for me was its diversity; the story centres around teenagers Natasha Kingsley, a Jamaican born undocumented immigrant hours away from being deported from the United States, and Daniel Jae Ho Bae, a Korean American on course to become a Yale educated doctor. No way could the movie adaptation of this spawn a ‘white people almost kissing’ poster. But the thing that makes TSIAAS great is the fact that these characters are not tokens or defined by their cultures; the representation is flipping good. Natasha’s story deals with both the fear and heartbreak associated with undocumented immigration, andthe idea that a country other than the one you’re born in can be your true home. Yoon explores these ideas with depth and with sensitivity, something I’d love to see more of in literature. However, Natasha is not simply defined by her three-dimensional issues; she has nuanced interests like rock music and science. Yoon also investigates Daniel’s pressure of being a second-generation Korean immigrant in America, the cultural disparities he faces between himself and his parents, and how these tensions play out between siblings. My only problem with the characterisation in TSIAAS is the way the characters define themselves as the scientist (Natasha) and the poet (Daniel). For characters with such depth and realistic issues, this felt a little forced to me. I don’t know many teenagers who define themselves with suh rigid labels (and so frequently) and so I felt like at times they were characters rather than real people.
The structure of TSIAAS grabbed me from the beginning. The novel switches between the perspectives of Daniel and Natasha and, despite short chapters meaning frequent changes of perspective, both characters have an individual voice so it’s easy to keep track of who was speaking. Yoon also includes chapters that break away completely from the current story which I love as interesting tid-bits and as a way to enhance the idea of the ‘universe’ as the third main character. For instance, we learn about Natasha’s fathers’ back story in a series of dispersed chapters called “Samuel Kingsley: A History of Regret”, and how the lives of cameo characters, such as Irene the security guard at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services building and Natasha’s attorney/Daniel’s Yale interviewer Jeremy Fitzgerald, will progress beyond the narrative. Yoon even weaves in elements of non-fiction with chapters such as “Hair: An African American History” which are like relevant minisodes of QI.
Like I said before, the third protagonist in TSIAAS is the universe and this becomes connected with the way love is portrayed throughout. Yoon focuses on the idea that “you can fall in love in an instant and that is can last forever”, a quote taken from her author profile at the back of this book. This is breathtakingly beautiful and I’m sure true, but it’s not a concept that particularly resonates with me. It confirmed to me that I want to write books that show readers that love can be hard but that’s OK. I’m talking about a Ross and Rachel type of thing because it’s the kind of trajectory I find to be not only the most interesting, but the healthiest lessons for YA readers.
The Sun is Also a Star is an example of diversity done right, a healthy and necessary feature of literature. However, the ideas of love and fate are not represented as realistically as I was expecting for a contemporary YA novel. For me, this book helped me hone the things I do and not want to include in my own work which makes it a success in my eyes.