The Sun is Also a Star

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?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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November Wrap-Up

Another month is drawing to a close and I find myself asking again… Where did it go?

I know where mine went. It was dedicated to NaNoWriMo. I verified my 50,000 words yesterday. I hope everyone else has had a fun writing month. We can sleep now, it’s over.

(Well, almost)

I also turned 23.

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This month I reviewed:

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Feelings: I haunt Mindy’s Instagram account and make-believe that she’s my best friend.

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

Feelings: Because of this debut, I will now read everything Nicola Yoon writes. Forever.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Feelings: Baz, marry me?

Cress – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: The most adorable iteration of Rapunzel I have ever experienced.

I also read:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (reread)

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

First and Then – Emma Mills

(review coming soon, but *spoiler alert* I am making similar vows to read everything Emma Mills produces from this point forward).

Everything Everything

Maddy is sick. She has SCID. It’s a chronic condition that can basically be described as an allergy to everything. She hasn’t been able to leave her house in seventeen years. The only people in her life are her mother (who also happens to be her doctor), and her nurse, Carla, who is pretty much her best friend in the world.

That is, until one day, a new family move in across the street. Until, specifically, Olly moves in across the street.

Suddenly Maddy’s life inside isn’t enough anymore.

Maddy is sick. She has SCID. It’s a chronic condition that can basically be described as an allergy to everything. She hasn’t been able to leave her house in seventeen years. The only people in her life are her mother (who also happens to be her doctor), and her nurse, Carla, who is pretty much her best friend in the world.

That is, until one day, a new family move in across the street. Until, specifically, Olly moves in across the street.

Suddenly Maddy’s life inside isn’t enough anymore.

EverythingEverythingCoverFor whatever reason, I waited a really long time to read Everything Everything, by Nicola Yoon. It arrived ages ago, but for a month or two it has been sitting on my shelf, underneath Why Not Me?, Asking for It and Six of Crows. I think I did this because I knew that this book would either be a colossal disappointment, or one of those reads during which I would become nostalgic about it before it was even over.

It was the second one. I loved this book. Nicola Yoon handled her subject matter well. She wrote Maddy as your average eighteen year old. That she wasn’t ever allowed to leave the house was just happenstance. It wasn’t something Maddy especially dwelt on, because it was her normality. I loved Yoon’s presentation of family time, particularly the games like phonetic Scrabble that Maddy played with her mother. Small moments like that build up the truth of your family life. It had the effect of showing us the loving relationship between Maddy and her mother while also showing us how small Maddy’s world was. That game came up a lot – I swear at times it was all Maddy and her mother did. They even played it when Maddy wanted nothing but to be as far from her mother as she could get.  The constant game of phonetic Scrabble (that Maddy didn’t win until right near the very end), was like a symbol of the suffocating relationship Maddy and her mother had. When Maddy won the final game they played in the book, it was a signifier for the change that was finally coming in their relationship. Getting out from underneath someone else’s suffocating love is difficult and painful, but something that had to happen for Maddy or her mother to have even a chance at their best future.

One the criticisms I have seen levelled at this book most frequently is that we don’t get enough of Maddy’s mother. I completely disagree. Whether she’s there or not, she is a looming presence throughout the book. She is the walls of Maddy’s prison. I think the reason for her relative disappearance in much of the book is that, for the first time ever, Maddy’s life is about herself.

Carla was the foil to Maddy’s mother. Without her influence I don’t think the Maddy that we read about would have been possible. Where Maddy’s mum restricts her, Carla is all about setting her free. She is the one who teaches Maddy that her life is her own. Carla knows that it is a person’s one job during their time here to live their life, even when doing that is scary.

You’re not living if you’re not regretting.’ – Carla, the best nurse ever.

Obviously I can’t end this review without talking about Olly. Oh, Olly. Why didn’t you move in across the street from me? Granted, I am not trapped in my house owing to chronic illness, but it’s very difficult for me to leave the village most of the time because the public transport is so bad. That counts, right? I’m basically Rapunzel in the tower until a friend with a car shows up.

Anyway. Olly was everything I like in a boy: hyper-active energy, emotional damage and the sort of flirtatious attitude that puts an instant, embarrassing and totally unavoidable grin on my face. I’ve heard Maddy and Olly’s attraction described as insta-love, but I don’t agree at all. It’s insta-sexual tension, which is way more acceptable. As I have made clear before, I am a big fan of sexual tension. It’s insta-sexual tension that turns into a real relationship. As far as I’m concerned, Olly totally seems like a guy worth leaving the house for.

I guess my one criticism of this book is that I would have liked to have read more about Maddy’s life post-twist. The resolution came so quickly after, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of how Maddy dealt with the situation. I would have liked to have seen Olly’s reaction, too.

But this is a backhanded criticism. Essentially my complaint is that the book ended.

To which I have to say, good job, Nicola Yoon. I can’t wait to see what you do next.