Review by Valeria De La Vega
Ember, Penguin Random House, 2016
384 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-0-38568-368-5
Ages 14+, Grades 9+
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Romance
Peter shakes his head at me. “Why are you bringing that?” he asks, meaning the textbook. “We’re leaving Tasha. You don’t have to turn in homework.”
Peter has just discovered the power of sarcasm. He uses it every chance he gets.
I don’t bother responding to him, just put my headphones on and head for the door. “Back soon,” I say to my mom.
She kisses her teeth and turns away. I remind myself that she’s not upset with me. Tasha, is not you me upset with, you know? Is something she says a lot these days. I’m going to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) building in downtown Manhattan to see if someone there can help me. We are undocumented immigrants, and we’re being deported tonight.
Today is my last chance to try to convince someone – or fate – to help me find a way to stay in America.
To be clear: I don’t believe in fate. But I’m desperate.
It is said that sometimes, if you answer the right questions, you can fall in love with someone in just one day. People make life changing decisions in a matter of minutes that alter the course of your life; however, not all problems can be solved in less than 24 hours, can they? This is what Natasha Kingsley and Daniel Jae Ho Bae must find out in what might be the most important day in their lives. This and more will happen in The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon’s second bestselling-novel and upcoming motion picture.
When Natasha was eight, her father moved her family from Jamaica to the United States under a tourism visa to follow his dreams and “make it” as an actor. Now a high school senior, she must solve the deportation order her family is facing instead of applying for college. And today—her last day in America—she meets Daniel.
Daniel is a hopeless romantic. He is an American-born Korean teenager on his way to an interview with Yale University to study medicine. However, his true passion lies in writing poems, but he lacks the life experience to be true to his passion: “I’m working on a poem about heartbreak that I’ve been working on forever (give or take). The problem is that I’ve never had my heart broken, so I’m having a hard time.” Today he must make a choice, either live up to his family’s expectations and follow the only path that they see for him or let it all go and follow his heart.
The novel has a unique narrative structure where each short chapter is written from the alternating perspective of Natasha or Daniel, and in some other cases tells the stories of those who surround them: Daniel’s family, Natasha’s father, and even people that just pass through their lives, such as the security guard at the immigration office. This structure allows for a broader perspective, and a complete understanding of the emotions that each of the characters is dealing with. The narrative style takes around five small chapters to get used to, but allows the reader to relate to each of the characters and understand their distinct personalities by seeing things through their eyes.
Identity is a major theme in The Sun is Also a Star. Yoon accomplishes an excellent portrayal of the conflicting issues around Natasha’s and Daniel’s heritages. Daniel is proud to be Korean but sees how his brother refuses to acknowledge where he comes from by pretending he doesn’t understand the language, and even extends this to his dating life by only dating blonde and blue-eyed girls. Natasha only sees her life in the United States, meanwhile her brother happily plays Bob Marley music and can’t wait to go to Jamaica because he feels that he doesn’t belong. Both Daniel and Natasha try to blend in to their American reality, please their parents, and be just like their friends. Yoon infuses Natasha’s story with her own lived experience as a Jamaican living in the States who is married to a Korean American, which lends authenticity to the story and avoids stereotypes within the #ownvoices movement.
These qualities as well as the chemistry between the two characters makes the book an entertaining and delightful read, one that shouldn’t be missed before watching the upcoming film. Yoon’s novel is filled with rich conversations and life-changing situations that prove a single day can, indeed, change your life. The Sun is Also a Star is a romantic story that fills us with hope right until the very end.
Don’t miss The Sun is Also a Star in theatres May 17th, 2019.
Valeria De La Vega is a Colombian who has recently immigrated to Canada to peruse a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature. She is interested in stories that she can relate to from her life experience as an immigrant, Latin American, and stories she can relate to from her country’s history.