Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: "The Sun is Also a Star" by Nicola Yoon

No, I'm not crying. You're crying.

Daniel has always tried to be a dutiful son to his parents, who emigrated from South Korea, but he's always played second fiddle to his older brother Charlie, who is more confident, smarter, and has had a visceral dislike for Daniel since they were younger.

But with Charlie's recent academic fall from grace, their parents are starting to put more pressure on Daniel to follow their wishes, which include getting into Yale and becoming a doctor. The thing is, though, Daniel isn't sure he wants to follow that path—he sees himself as more of a poet—but the truth is, he doesn't feel like he needs to decide his future when he's 17.

Natasha has her future planned out: college and a career as a data scientist. She believes in science, in numbers, in rational thought, and really the only way she lets go is listening to music, albeit angsty music like Nirvana and Soundgarden. But all of her best-laid plans are being torn to shreds, as her family is being deported back to Jamaica in 12 hours. She hasn't lived there since she was eight, and she can't imagine throwing away her future for something that isn't even her fault. She has tried to do everything she can to fix her family's situation, but time is running out.

When Daniel and Natasha meet unexpectedly one day, they're both utterly unprepared by the power of their connection. Yet while Daniel is a strong believer in love at first sight, and wants to ride this journey as long as it can go, Natasha believes love is governed by emotions that have no place in her life, especially at this moment. Even while she feels immensely drawn to Daniel, how can she allow her rationality to be bypassed by her heart, particularly when she'll be leaving the country at the end of the day?

"People spend their whole lives looking for love. Poems and songs and entire novels are written about it. But how can you trust something that can end as suddenly as it begins?"

Over the course of one day, Daniel and Natasha will tell each other things they've never told anyone before. There will be adventure, anger, sadness, more than a little passion, and a discussion of family issues, fears, ambitions, and their views on love and life. Each knows where they want this road to lead, but neither knows where it ultimately will.

Are there times when the head should win out over the heart, or should the heart always rule? Can you truly be understood, be seen and heard so fully by someone you barely know? The Sun is Also a Star is emotional, thought-provoking, a tiny bit frustrating, but beautifully written, a book that makes you smile and, if you're like me, cry, a little, too.

"It's like knowing all the words to a song but still finding them beautiful and surprising."

While for the most part the book tells Natasha and Daniel's story, from time to time it deviates in order to focus briefly on other characters, some supporting and some who appear for a brief moment or two, but whose appearance drives a crucial plot thread. Other times it focuses on a concept, scientific or otherwise, that is mentioned. I found that off-putting at first, although I did warm to it, but certain non-sequiturs still irked me.

Beyond that, however, I really enjoyed this book. I love the way Nicola Yoon writes, and I love the way she didn't shy away from tackling issues of prejudice or familial dysfunction while spinning this story. I didn't feel like this book fell into the trap that plagues many YA novels, where the characters are more erudite and sarcastic than people twice or three times their age.

In the end, I truly felt this in my heart. But there was something in my eye; I didn't cry on the airplane while reading this, I swear.

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