Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star ended up being one of the four books I picked up during my annual Christmas Day trip to BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Every year I somehow manage to find myself in the young adult section, not able to find the book I had planned on buying, so I pick something else. However, I have yet to be disappointed by my second choice book, and this year proved no different.
The Situation: Natasha and Daniel are two teenagers living in New York City, but their lives are incredibly different. Natasha is originally from Jamaica, but has spent most of her life in the states. She loves early 90's alternative rock (think Soundgarden and Nirvana), plans to be a data analysis when she grows up, and believes in facts and science, not feelings and love and God. Daniel is a Korean-American who has an interview that could set him up to attend Yale. His parents more or less have his future mapped out for him, but not necessarily because they are strict and unbending (although they are). They simply want their sons to have it better than they did. But Daniel does not want to go to Yale and become a doctor. Daniel wants to write poetry and do stuff he is actually passionate about. As I said, Natasha and Daniel could not be more different, but that does not keep the two of them from meeting in Time Square, and falling in love before the day is over.
The Problem: Two things that stand in the way of Natasha and Daniel living happily ever after. 1. Daniel's parents will never go for him dating, much less marrying, a black girl. 2. Natasha and her family will be forced to leave the country by 10:00pm tonight. The have overstayed their visas, and due to her father's unfortunate error in judgment on the night of his big break, their status was found out and revealed, and now they must leave a place they have called home for ten years. These are two huge hurtles, but Daniel cares less and less what his family thinks with each passing hour, and Natasha is doing what little she can to have her family stay in the country. Knowing the truth about her situation, Natasha initially pushes Daniel away, but being a romantic, as well as persistent, he is not so easily deterred. So the two of them spend an almost unbelievable day in New York City, both wanting to believe that fate and destiny are on their side, but knowing that everything could end as quickly as it began.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in present-day New York City. Natasha and Daniel's adventures all take place in less than 24 hours as they travel through Time Square, Koreatown, Harlem, Brooklyn, and a good chunk of Manhattan. Natasha is certainly the more practical of the two. She loves science, facts, studying the stars, and is dubious when it comes to fate and destiny. Originally, her father moved to the US from Jamaica to pursue his dream of acting. But after years of little success, the family of four is still living in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. And now they are being deported. Daniel is a dreamer, and he admits it. His entire life, he has always been second best behind his older brother Charlie, but that changed when Charlie was put on academic dismissal from Harvard. Now the pressure is on Daniel to get into Yale and be a doctor. While the novel mostly switches between the first-person points of view of both Natasha and Daniel, often it will go into an explanation of some seemingly small scientific fact, or it will explore the history or mindset of a minor or side character, basically asking the "what if" question and following the answers through to the end. Probably the main point I gained from these side stories was that while one decision may lead to a happily ever after, it won't be a happily ever after for everyone involved.
My Verdict: Yes, Natasha's love of hard facts coupled with her cold and hardened personality gets tiresome. Yes, Daniel's persistence and romanticism gets annoying at times. But ultimately, this is a fantastic and well-crafted story about two teenagers who find each other in the weirdest way, in one of the biggest cities in the world, and despite being incredibly different, manage to make a connection that many people never make for their entire lives. Is it easy? No. Does it come with many challenges? Absolutely. But they go for it anyway, and that, to me, is almost always impressive, as is this story. There is a reason it received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award from the American Library Association. It is a book about real issues, while still managing to be romantic and sweet and fun.
Favorite Moment: When Daniel stands up to his brother, and also when Natasha stands up to her father.
Favorite Character: Natasha and Daniel both have their good points, but Daniel's optimism is almost infectious when it is not bordering on annoying. Then again, Natasha's honesty and forthrightness are not without their charms either.
Recommended Reading: I will recommend Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, another YA story that is told by more than one person using shifting points of view.