‘The Sun is Also a Star’ by Nicole Yoon is a heartwarming, idyllic, and fairytale-ish read. In my opinion, this book is a delightful amalgamation of YA meets immigrant and romance themes.
The story begins the day Natasha Kingsley, the 16-year-old good-looking, head turner Jamaican-American is set to be deported from America to her home country. She has been an illegal immigrant living in a country she calls home since she was eight! The Universe is unjust in handing out the worst possible scenario to her.
On the other hand, there is Daniel Bae, a complacent, good-looking, and poetic Korean American. His parents run a small-time hair care business in America. And all they ever want for their two sons is to be educated and become doctors and actualize the American dream!
However, a course of chance happenings set Natasha and Daniel on a romantic trajectory that is sure to be doomed.
A day’s story of two youngsters dealing with love, teenage angst, identity crisis, familial bonds, and shattered dreams makes this book so appealing. You may wonder what could possibly happen in a day’s course.
What is falling in love? A series of small coincidences that we say means everything because we want to believe that our tiny lives matter on a galactic scale. But falling in love doesn’t even begin to compare on the formation of the universe.
Nicola Yoon plays with the believes of the two characters – the girl believes in science and facts, not in fate or destiny while the boy is truly romantic and poetic but tied down to his parent’s expectations. Can Natasha and Daniel fall in love with less than a day’s time in their hands? Or why should they even think of love at such a difficult juncture in their life? The immigrant parents would have never understood what went between Natasha and Daniel. Somehow, while reading the book, in all practicalities, I was that immigrant parent and at other times, I was the idyllic Daniel believing in the power of love.
The day Natasha is to be deported, she tries one last chance at impressing upon the immigration department to let her stay. She blames her father for the revelation of their illegal status and thinks it is he who needs to be punished, not her. She believes at her age, she should rather care about prom nights and college applications like the others in her class and not about settling in a new country.
The immigrant parents’ trope plays an important role in unraveling the theme of cultural differences, prejudices, and stereotyping a certain communities in a foreign land. This is a YA book where you would think of identity and roots rather than love, though it is essentially romance that cocoons the entire narrative.
My understanding of ‘immigration’ as a literary trope comes from Jhumpa Lahiri books, with the Indian diaspora against a backdrop of university campuses and walks. Nicola Yoon widens up that horizon with issues of African and Asian immigrants. As the central characters are young adults, we read about the second-generation immigrants who are more American in tastes and language and culturally distant from their parents’ country. For the first-generation immigrants, the question was simply of evading poverty and grabbing economic opportunities while remaining tied to their culture.
Emanating from the culture theme is ‘hair’; I first read about the politics of African hair in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writings. In this book, Nicola Yoon dedicates an entire chapter to exploring women’s hairstyles shaping the cultural and political history of our society. For instance, the subtle imposition of poker-straight hair as beauty standards professionally and personally, something we see in India as well.
I would recommend ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ by Nicole Yoon as the perfect read for a weekend or if you want to beat the mid-week blues. It moves at an impeccable pace and touches you emotionally. Though I have never been a huge fan of the YA genre, I have absolutely come to adore Natasha and Daniel.
So a big go ahead from my end on this one…happy reading!