Every year I try to finish a couple of the books on my high school’s summer reading list. This year “The Sun Is Also A Star” was on the list, and I snatched up a copy as soon as I could. I enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s other novel, Everything Everything, so I was excited to read this one.
I loved the cover art and the summary sounded interesting. But once I started reading… I began to feel less sure. And by the end of the book, I knew that it just wasn’t for me.
The plot was, actually, very compelling. A 17-year old girl, Natasha, heads into Manhattan on the morning of her family’s deportation. She, her mother, and her brother are all being forced to return to Jamaica after living for years in New York City following her father’s DUI arrest. She’s in a desperate situation, and the last thing she expects is to fall in love.
Then she bumps into Daniel, who is headed to his admissions interview for Yale. Daniel has his own cultural identity issues, being the son of strict Korean parents. Daniel loved poetry (vom) and basically falls in love at first sight with Natasha. They spend the day together, taking the train all over town and rapidly moving through so, so many different phases of a relationship in just a few hours.
The novel follows their one day together in excruciating detail, with small chapters from the point of view of secondary characters interspersed here and there. The word choice is decent and the characters are well described.
But, to be honest, Daniel is kind of a manic pixie dream boy with his moleskin poetry notebook and his long hair and his secret desire to escape from the ivy-league education his parents are hoping toprovide for him. Like, why? When so many young people out there have truly noble dreams and no parental support emotionally or financially to go on to college, this kind of story line feel like a slap in the face. It’s not okay that Daniel is whining about his parents wanting him to go to an amazing university and become a doctor. Just double major in pre-med and creative writing, Daniel, and stop acting like Yale is a death sentence for your soul.
The strongest parts of the book were the moments when Natasha was sharing her family’s history. I found her voice to be so solid and respectable. Her experience being thrown around by the mistakes her father made was also pretty compelling. I would have found the book a whole lot more palatable if it had followed Natasha’sstory from the moment of her father’s arrest until the moment her family left their apartment in Brooklyn. But adding in a Twilight-like love at first sight teenage romance complete with a MAGICAL kissing moment and fist fights and so, so many other unnecessary cliches just missed the mark entirely. Kids like Natasha are struggling all over this country of ours, and there’s no reason we need to throw an Edward Cullen at her to make her story cool for the youngsters.
I also will always, always have a problem with any teenage romance thatgoes from first meeting to I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND ALWAYS in under 8 hours. Not a healthy relationship pattern to be holding up as a model for high schoolers, people.
So, in conclusion… This book is not worth it. I think it does a disservice to all the actual Dreamers out there by diluting their actual stories with useless teenage drama. And it leans into so many of the stereotypes I’d hoped YA authors were stepping back from. Nicola Yoon is a talented writer, but this novel just missed the mark.