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 expectations. 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 lies before us. Which one will come true?
For whatever reason, I waited a really long time before reading Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon’s first novel. It was not a mistake I was about to make again with The Sun is Also a Star. I’m only writing about it now because of the unexpected hiatus – thanks for bearing with me, by the way – but I read this back at the beginning of December, pretty much in one sitting. My heart was hurting – because of the news, because of complicated personal stuff, because of the more typical twenties-related nonsense, and I was starting to feel like nothing I did really mattered. This book and its beautiful message communicated by Yoon’s gorgeous writing did a lot toward getting me feeling like myself again.
I don’t even know where to start with explaining how much I loved this one.
The Sun is Also a Star is a novel preoccupied with immigrant narratives in America. We get to see two sides – Natasha, undocumented and born in Jamaica, and Daniel, born in America to documented Korean parents. Their status obviously has a big impact on the economic situation of their families – Daniel’s parents own a business and have sent their eldest to Harvard (and Daniel is currently on the same track), whereas Natasha’s family struggle to get by and live in a one bedroom apartment.
Yoon uses Natasha and Daniel’s relationships with their families as a way of exploring the tensions that arise when trying to blend cultures. There is a particular focus on this in Daniel’s story. Yoon uses Daniel’s fraught relationship with his brother, Charlie as a lens through which to view the difficulty both boys have in allowing their identities – both Korean AND American – to coexist. While Daniel is comfortable with himself as Korean American, which means being happy to speak in both languages, include his American friends in Korean culture, etc, Charlie doesn’t want to be seen as anything but American. This is painfully shown in an incident from their childhood in which Daniel referred to Charlie as ‘Hyung’, a title a younger brother uses for the older, and Charlie gets angry after his friends tease him about it. That incident was the point at which Charlie all but cut Daniel out of his life, and now both in their late teens, they barely speak at all. Charlie pretends like he only understands English – even when speaking to their parents. He claims Korean food is disgusting. All his friends are white – a deliberate choice. Charlie is without a doubt the villain of the piece, but the reader’s hatred of him can’t help but be mitigated by how sad his story is. He is driven by self-hatred created by a society in which whiteness is considered the norm and the aspiration. Yeah. It SUCKS.
I adore the way that Yoon writes about family. She uses such a delicate approach for such a complicated thing, and it makes her characters painful, frustrating and ultimately so believable.
Have I mentioned yet that I love her? Because I totally love her.
My other favourite thing about this book, the thing that made me SO HAPPY I had to put it down for a little bit in order to just… you know, have a spontaneous dance party while I made a cup of coffee (like I said, reading this book was the first thing to make me feel like a human again in WEEKS)… was Yoon’s use of perspective. So, as the summary says, the majority of the novel is split between Daniel and Natasha. But in addition to that, Yoon frequently zooms out, allowing Charlie, Natasha’s dad and Daniel’s parents their own micro-story. But she doesn’t stop there. Those Daniel and Natasha’s lives touch – a security lady, a lawyer, a drunk driver, a waitress in a Korean restaurant and more, also get a moment under Yoon’s empathetic spotlight. This creates a real sense of Daniel and Natasha’s day as a microcosm – you get a sense of their story as one piece of the gigantic puzzle that is the city, and the world, even.
I’ve been watching John Green on vlogbrothers since I was 15, so the idea of imagining people complexly is hardly one that is new to me, but I don’t think I have read a book before that so eloquently presents the concept. It describes a world in which everyone – even that guy at work the other day who ordered a FLAT WHITE and then quizzed me on whether I knew what a FLAT WHITE was cause if I brought him a LATTE he was going to be angry about it – is mystifyingly, energetically and consistently complex.
Over the past few weeks, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be part of something bigger. When looking at the constantly awful news, and learning about the small privileges of everyday life most people don’t even think about that come at the expense of others, it is easy to feel like a pointless speck lost in the midst of a buzzing cloud of relentless bad. Reading The Sun is Also a Star helped me see this differently. Yoon presents the small moments – the beautiful ones and the sad ones – as individual pieces in the puzzle of the world.
The world she presented was a cautiously optimistic one, and I love her for writing it.
***A Word on Instalove
This review is WAY TOO LONG, as usual, but I couldn’t make myself post it without throwing in my two cents on this particular issue. I saw a lot of conversation on Twitter that described Daniel and Natasha’s relationship as instalove, but I completely disagree. To me, the definition of instalove is two characters with ZERO chemistry talking about how much they LOVE each other and fiercely making out without ever having had an actual conversation. What Natasha and Daniel have is an instant connection, serious flirty banter and the sort of chemistry that you can’t help but smile at while reading. Chemistry = goodPLEASEMOREthanks whereas instalove is just… lazy. You can FEEL the difference.