Daniel is a first-generation Korean-American. He’s the younger of two, and until his brother’s recent fall from grace, hadn’t had to deal so much with parental pressure to succeed. Now that’s all changed, and despite his utter lack of interest in the sciences—and his ambivalence about going to college, period—he’s expected to get into Yale, to go to med school, to become a doctor.
Natasha moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was eight. She’s been here ever since—she’s grown up here, gone to school here, had her first boyfriend here, fallen in love with science here, and looks forward to going to college here. She and her parents are undocumented—her little brother was born here—and tonight, the entire family is due to be deported.
Over the next twelve hours, Daniel Bae and Natasha Kingsley will face huge shifts in their lives, their futures, and their understanding of the universe. They haven’t met yet, but they’re about to fall in love.
The Sun Is Also a Star is a he-said, she-said romance. It features leads who use intellectual sparring as flirtation, who wind each other up because they both enjoy it. It features a meet-cute in a record shop that, deliberate or not, works as a call-back to Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist:
I face Red Tie. “Is he coming over here?”
“Maybe we should make out or something like spies do in the movies,” I suggest.
Red Tie blushes hard.
“I’m not serious,” I say, smiling.
He doesn’t say anything, just blushes some more. I watch the color warm his face.
As much affection as I have for Nick & Norah—and as much affection I have for plain old multi-perspective romances in general—The Sun Is Also a Star is so much more.
It’s a celebration of the idea of the United States as a country of immigrants, but it’s also honest and forthright about the realities of such. It grapples with big ideas and little ideas. It grapples with history on macro, meso, and micro levels, from the creation of the universe to an explanation of why there are so many Korean American-owned hair care stores that cater to an African American clientele to the personal histories of not only our main characters, but secondary and tertiary characters.
It’s just as much about our hard, complicated relationships with family members as it is about two people falling in love. It’s about connections between people, the effects we have on other peoples’ lives—sometimes knowingly and deliberately, sometimes not. And it’s about the fear of loss—of losing our connections to one another, to our family, and to our own history.
It’s about assumptions. Assumptions tied to stereotypes—Natasha and Daniel both have moments in which they acknowledge that they’ve made them and actively work harder to avoid doing the same in the future—and assumptions tied to perception. It’s about how perception is never objective—that everyone’s understanding of reality is filtered through their own personal history:
But not because he’s evil. And not because he’s a Stereotypical Korean Parent. But because he can’t see past his own history to let us have ours. A lot of people are like that.
It’s about how, because of history on all levels—from worldwide to familial to personal—every single action we take, regardless of intent, can be perceived as a political statement. Natasha’s choice to wear her hair in an afro, for example, isn’t a political choice on her part. She’s not trying to make a statement:
She doesn’t do it to make a political statement. In fact, she liked having her hair straight. In the future, she may make it straight again. She does it because she wants to try something new.
She does it simply because it looks beautiful.
But privately, her mother sees it as one. She sees it as an attempt on Natasha’s part of trying to distance herself from her mother, a statement about becoming more independent, of pushing her away. It’s a concept that, in another book, could lead readers to feel paralyzed, scared to make the “wrong” move—but in Yoon’s hands, it’s a way of promoting empathy, of encouraging people to be conscious of their own actions, to consider how their actions have been shaped by history, and how their actions affect other people. It’s flat-out beautiful.
The Sun Is Also a Star is adorable, smart, funny, thoughtful, empathetic, beautifully crafted, and romantic. It’s also necessary. It deals with hugely relevant and timely issues with depth and humanity and grace—never didactic, always with a light touch—and it deals with those issues in terms of the people the issues affect, with how they react, with a complex and broad range of opinions and thoughts and emotions and choices. At the very, very least, this book should be required reading for the entire YA community—fans, published authors, aspiring authors, and industry folks alike.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.