While I read this book a couple years ago, with the movie coming out recently, I considered this a great time to revisit my thoughts on The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicole Yoon. This book is a Young Adult Fiction/Romance, and was published in 2016.
This book is the second published work of Yoon, who is also the author of The New York Times bestselling book, Everything, Everything. Yoon sets her story in New York City, a crowded landscape used to show that each individual can have an impact on another person’s story. While the book is mainly told from the point of view of Daniel and Natasha, there are also biographical chapters on many of the side characters. Yoon includes short chapters of the occasional word, place, or idea that connects to the characters.
A normal day in New York is transformed into commentaries on possibly controversial topics ranging from illegal immigrants to the science of love. While the book is crammed with diverse characters and interwoven sub-plots, The Sun Is Also a Star might not have reached a verdict on its audacious claim: love is controlled by both fate and science.
“America’s not really a melting pot. It’s more like one of those divided metal plates with separate sections for starch, meat, and veggies.”
Nicola Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star
Daniel is first generation American. His parents moved to America from Korea and own a black hair shop. While Daniel does not resent his Korean heritage as much as his older brother Charles, he struggles with his love of poetry and his parents’ pressure on him to become a doctor. Daniel succumbs to their will and plans to attend an interview determining if he will be recommended to Harvard. His reluctance leads to distraction, and he winds up in a music store after following Natasha (a stranger at the time) on a whim.
Natasha is an immigrant from Jamaica, who relies heavily on science to sustain her. The arts have scorned her family’s efforts of having the American dream, as her father, a denied but talented actor, exposes their illegal residency after a DUI. Natasha spends her last day meeting with an immigration lawyer, who is caught up in his own romantic drama. Though she is a firm follower of science, the music of her headphones causes her to enter a trance-like state as she enters a music store.
“I don’t really want to know her story. I just want the music and the moment.”
Nicola Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star
Just as the back of Natasha’s jacket reads “Deus Ex Machina,” the story eludes to the fact that there might be someone pulling the characters around like reluctant puppets on a string. Daniel addresses the main issue of the novel in his lines, “I don’t really want to know her story. I just want the music and the moment.” While we read about Jamaican and Korean words and the backgrounds of side characters, the main characters remain ignorant and therefore unaffected by the people around them. Or at least the people that they are not romantically intrigued by.
Most teen fiction novels do little to enlarge the awareness of others amongst teenagers. While Daniel and Natasha may not recognize this impact entirely, Yoon still tries to encourage the awareness of others’ feelings, backgrounds, and cultural differences by writing about them herself. Through her small commentary chapters on words and ideas, Yoon addresses conflict between Jamaican and Korean culture when they are mixed with American ideals and dreams. The book also introduces teenagers to the world of immigration laws and two cultures they might not understand.
Though the novel tries to address the stereotypes of Korean, Jamaican, and American culture, Yoon’s characters lack the ability to escape them. Korean heritage plays a large part in why Daniel’s family wants him to be a doctor. Natasha’s Jamaican family are illegal immigrants and are being forced to leave the country. Yoon captures the dialects of Jamaicans and Koreans, but she leaves us wondering if she has presented a new way to look at Koreans and Jamaicans or if we are only meant to widen our perspective of the humanity behind the typecasts we may have formed.
Yoon is more successful at promoting the inner character of Natasha. She does not try to hide her main characters’ skin colors, but that does not define their core beings. Yoon writes, “It takes three years for Natasha’s natural hair to grow in fully. She doesn’t do it to make a political statement. In fact, she liked having her hair straight…She does it because she wants to try something new. She does it simply because it looks beautiful.” Yoon might be contributing some personal experience into this character. Her own heritage gives life to Natasha’s personality.
While Natasha makes hair choices based on personal values, Daniel wears a ponytail to make a statement against his parents. Daniel’s ideals and culture directly contrast with Natasha’s. Where she is science, he is art. But while Natasha’s character is defined by her reason, confidence, and drive, Daniel is mostly marked by his poetry writing and sudden obsession with Natasha.
On that note, Yoon introduces us to another stereotype: steamy teen romance. After Daniel and Natasha meet in the music store, they decide to test a theory that strangers can fall in love in one day based on three sets of questions that increase in intimacy. The science experiment consumes the rest of the novel, with interesting results. For one, it works—on the same level as most other teen fiction novels. The teenagers claim to experience love, but only when they experience intense physical contact. But what the characters first sought to discover seemed to be a deeper concept than tongues in mouths. So what can be taken away from the quick progression of the teenage love? Maybe Natasha says it best in her line about love songs, ‘“Easy…lust.”’
This comment in comparison with the climax of Natasha and Daniel’s day together offers conflicting messages about what Yoon classifies as scientifically provable love. While Daniel and Natasha believe that this moment of physical affection proves that they can fall in love in a single day, the two spiral apart after this moment in the novel. The couple go from thinking in unison, “I can’t get enough. I can’t get close enough. Something chaotic and insistent builds inside me” to “Her eyes have been replaced with storm clouds.” Instead of creating a convincing argument for love at first sight, Yoon seems to prove what every teen romance has proven before.
It’s obvious that Yoon desires to showcase diversity and convince teenagers that love, fate, and science can coexist. But as the last scene take place several years into the future, on a plane where both characters meet by extremely vague and downright fishy chance, Yoon’s writing lacks the tact that real fate often shows. Sometimes people just don’t meet again.
The Sun Is Also a Star has now become a movie, and you can watch the trailer by clicking on this link here. You can also learn more about the author by visiting her website: http://www.nicolayoon.com/#welcome-new.