There is a part of my that loves sickeningly sweet stories about teenagers in love, and a part of me that just can’t suspend my disbelief about how unrealistic the expectation of finding your soulmate is. These two parts of me have a hard time reconciling themselves when it comes to Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star.
In this novel, Yoon tells the story of two teenagers. Daniel is a Korean-American boy who is supposed to be on his way to a Yale alumni interview. Natasha is a Jamaican illegal immigrant who is about to be deported that evening. The two meet by coincidence and have a brief whirlwind romance of opposites.
Throughout the book, there are brief interludes about time, the universe, and the mindsets of the different characters they meet along the way. These little snapshots end up forming a “web” of the universe, or is it really just chaos theory?
I had a really hard time getting into The Sun is Also a Star. It started off promising. I liked the two families, but once Daniel and Natasha met, I felt like the book fell into a young adult trope that I was just tired of seeing. I am going to break this review down into what I liked and what I didn’t so I can keep it all straight:
What I Liked
The Diverse Characters — I really liked the two main characters when I started reading. There were two family units that I felt I could connect with, and the problems in them were relative.
The Interpretations of The American Dream — Through little bits of both Natasha and Daniel’s father’s we see how their experience coming to America differed. On one hand, you have Natasha’s father who has been chasing his dreams of becoming an actor, and on the other, you have Daniel whose parents have worked hard and run a business selling black hair care products. You also have Daniel’s parents who are trying hard to provide for him to see what they think is a better future for him.
Natasha’s — I haven’t read a lot of books where an illegal immigrant is a main character, but it’s a story I’ve thought of a lot recently. I really enjoyed the story that Yoon told. I liked the way she presents the issues surrounding the deportation, and the agent who tells her everything will be irie based on a vacation to the resort. I really liked Natasha’s determination, and I was rooting for her even through her fate really was out of her hands aside from this one meeting.
Little Poetic Scientific Interludes — I’ve read a few novels recently where the character’s world is pretty self-contained and they don’t think beyond who they interact with on a daily basis. You don’t have that in this book! By giving us a few scientific and historical snapshots, and a few alternate perspectives of influential side characters, you have this idea that everyone is connected. It’s enforced by Natasha’s talk about science, but it’s also a reminder that kindness and compassion can go a long way, without being too preachy.
The Use Of Time — I am in awe of books that can either span long distances in times (like The Immortalists) or I am in awe of books that make great use of short distances in time. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book when I picked it up, but I ended up liking that the entire story takes place over the course of the day.
What I Disliked
The Short Span of Time — While I loved the short time span, I also hated it. I felt like the book could have done with some better editing in sections, because it felts like when we went between Natasha and Daniel’s points of view, it took them twice as long to make a decision. This may just be a personal problem, maybe I’m not great with indecisive characters.
Daniel’s Instant Attachment to Natasha — I get that when Daniel and Natasha first meet, he’s high on the evangelic train conductor’s words, but he is following Natasha because he is so sure they’re meant to be together. I want to think it’s cute, but it’s also kind of creepy. The way he keeps saying that they’re “meant to be” also doesn’t help matters when you consider that I tend to read suspense, and when someone says that they might be a psychopath.
The One-Sidedness of Their Relationship — When I look back on the events of the day described in this book, it feels like aside from meeting with the immigration lawyer, Natasha never gets to show Daniel anything that she likes about New York City. They go to a Korean restaurant, and a karaoke bar, but she never gets to open up and be uninhibited in one of her favorite places. Even the love test was his idea.
The Love Test Gimmick — Daniel bets Natasha that he can make her fall in love with him by getting her to submit to The New York Times’ 36 Questions That Lead to Love Test. This list came out in 2015, and The Sun is Also a Star came out in 2016. The year before The Big Bang Theory did an episode where Penny and Sheldon did the same thing (Season 8 Episode 16 “The Intimacy Acceleration”). Once that was set up, this mostly felt like watching that episode with some modifications, because it’s a teen romance novel, of course, they’re supposed to fall in love.
Discussion of Deportation But Not Immigration — It’s probably wrong to say that I didn’t like this, it’s more that there’s just not enough of it for me. The Sun is Also a Star is a teen romance, but it’s told with a vehicle could have been stretched a little more and given the opportunity to show and educate people about the immigration process.
You have two families here, who have both immigrated from different backgrounds, for different reasons. While I liked that this book talks about the life of an illegal immigrant and the challenges and fear that they live with, I wondered why Samuel and Patricia never took the path to legal citizenship and what was standing in their way.
There is no denying that Natasha’s deportation is weighing heavily on her mind and that it’s an important issue for this book to raise given current events. It should be the center of the book and it’s an interesting vehicle to tell a story through.
What I wish they had done, was take it a step further and also discuss how Daniel’s parents came to America. Immigration is a big issue, and I was left wondering if Daniel’s parents were American citizens are if they had their green cards. That’s a trivial thing to think about, but I was curious about it and their path to citizenship.
By the end of the book, it was clear that both families had faced unique challenges and had unique stories about coming to America, and I just wanted more of that.
FINAL RATING: 3.5 Stars (In the end, maybe I’m just not a romance person.)
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