Note: Our school librarian attended BookExpo America this past week and brought back over 120 books. The next few reviews I do will be from that massive haul, and are all ARCs. It’s pretty cool to see what’s coming up in the publishing world!
Title: The Sun is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Specs: Paperback, 344 pages, pluc acknowledgments and excerpt from her first novel, Everything, Everything
Publishing Information: Will publish November 2016, Delacorte Press
Diverse Elements: Both protagonists are P.o.C. Natasha is a Jamaican teenager whose family (other than her little brother) lives illegally in NYC. Daniel is a first generation Korean-American. Other characters are very important to this story, like Natasha’s parents and Daniel’s parents and brother, and their chapters are interspersed throughout.
Natasha Kingsley is scared, and angry, and almost hopeless. Her dad’s blunder of a few months previously (DUI) means that her family’s undocumented status was discovered, and they are being deported–TONIGHT. In a last ditch effort to save her family from this (or maybe just herself as the rest of her family seems quite resigned, almost excited), Natasha uses her last day to visit the United States Citizen and Immigration Services building to convince someone, anyone, that find a way to let them stay. Natasha makes it quite clear that she doesn’t believe in fate, destiny, or dreaming–her place is in science, observable facts, and cause/effect. USCIS can’t help her, until a well-meaning caseworker’s appropriation of “irie” sets off a verbal storm, and Natasha’s passion and fury convinces the caseworker to give her the name of an immigration lawyer.
Daniel Jae Ho Bae is the second son of his Korean parents, about to interview for “Second-Best School”: Yale. His older brother Charlie has been suspended for a year from Harvard, “Best School.” Charlie and Daniel do not get along. Daniel has virtually no desire to attend Yale and become a doctor, and prefers instead to write poems in his black notebook. But with his brother’s failures all the attention of his parents shifts to him, making him the pinnacle of hope in creating the American Dream.
Random events bring these two together, setting off a chain reaction that links them closer to one another. By the end of the day, even Natasha believes a little in love at first sight. By the end of the day, even Daniel has to admit that sometimes calling things “fate” doesn’t mean anything at all. And both of them learn more about themselves and their place in the world as they learn more about, and fall in love with, each other.
What I Liked: All the Carl Sagan quotations! And the story overall is really well done. The author’s style is engaging and real. Plus, sometimes I miss S. Korea, and oh mah gawsh, it made me want some kimchi like RIGHT NOW.
What I Disliked: Not really a dislike, per say, more like it took me a while to adjust to how the chapters are arranged. The two protagonists take turns speaking, but a lot of other people speak, too, like the security guard at USCIS, Natasha’s father Samuel, the narrator herself, etc., and it distracted me at first. As I kept reading, it became less distracting and added to the plot and character development pretty well and tied together at the end just about perfectly. It makes me a little hesitant to suggest it to some of my students, though, as what to me started as a mere distraction would present a big, big challenge to them.
What I Loved: Families are messy, aren’t they? We want to please our parents because we KNOW they want what’s best–or do they? We want to know they don’t regret our presence in their lives.
Speaking of ourselves, what is identity, anyway? How do we become comfortable with identity once we find out who we are? Or can we ever discover that, “Yes! I am this!”
And fate–or is it just chemicals? What makes us feel like we belong? And do we belong with each other just for one day or till forever ends?
That’s what I love. These questions, and more.
“I think all the good parts of us are connected on some level. The part that shares the last double chocolate chip cookie or donates to charity or gives a dollar to a street musician or becomes a candy striper or cries at Apple commercials or says I love you or I forgive you. I think that’s God. God is the connection of the very best parts of us.”
“Most poems I’ve seen are about love or sex or the stars. You poets are obsessed with stars. Falling stars. Shooting stars. Dying stars. . . . but why not more poems about the sun? The sun is also a star, and it’s our most important one. That alone should be worth a poem or two.”
Recommended For: Poets, dreamers, musicians, bullies, scientists, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, social workers, janitors–in other words, anyone in this world who has daily encounters with others, especially those who have ever stopped to think, even once, “How would my life be different if I had/n’t ________________?”
Older teens would like it, too ;).
Why It’s Important: Number 1 (to me at least) in importance is that HOLY COW THIS TEENAGER IS GETTING DEPORTED AND IT’S NOT HER FREAKING FAULT. Her family has made a home in NYC for 8+ years. She was a child when they moved there. She’s Jamaican by birth and documentation, but American by LIFE. She barely remembers Jamaica, has no Jamaican accent, and yet with the signing of one paper by a judge is being removed from her home. Immigrant stories are hard to read, hard to hear, and easy to ignore or reduce to trite expressions like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s still criminal.” Natasha’s part of the story speaks to a real need for our country to work deliberately and willfully on immigration policies instead of using this issue as an election platform, and for our society to begin to see immigrants as, oh, I dunno, HUMAN.
Another huge, huge reason this story is important is for self-acceptance. One of the characters, Daniel’s brother, is a real class-A jerk. Like, for real. He’s not kind. He’s not noble. His bad outweighs his good. But the root of it? He hates being Korean-American. He hates being first-generation and feels that the rest of the family hasn’t assimilated. And this narrative plays out everyday in the hearts and minds of children, youth, and adults across the country. What does assimilation actually mean? What does it look like? Is it possible to assimilate TOO much? And how can others help?
This just highlights all over the place the importance of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Representation matters. It matters.