Tag: Nicola Yoon

Fresh Ink

Cover image for Fresh Ink Edited by Lamar Giles Edited by Lamar Giles

ISBN 978-1-5427-6628-3

Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy of this title from the publisher at ALA Annual 2018.

It became pretty freaking clear that, book after book, adventure after adventure, the heroes weren’t like me at all.” –Lamar Giles

Fresh Ink is collection of short fiction highlighting diverse voices, put together by Lamar Giles, who is credited as one of the founders of the We Need Diverse Books movement. The majority of the stories are contemporary, with a strong focus on romance, but historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy are also included. The short format also includes one comic, and one play. With the exception of the reprint of “Tags” by Walter Dean Myer—to whose memory the collection is dedicated—the stories were written for this anthology. Contributor Aminah Mae Safi won a contest seeking new writers to feature in the book.

Everyone will have different favourites in a short story collection, and for me there were a few standouts in Fresh Ink. Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and If You Could Be Mine, offers up “Why I Learned to Cook,” the touching story of a bisexual Persian girl who is out to most of the people in her life, but struggling with how to tell her grandmother, whose rejection she fears. This one put tears in my eyes. I was also gripped by “Catch, Pull, Drive” by Schuyler Bailar, a transgender athlete who draws on his own experiences in a tense, first person narrative about a high school swimmer facing down the first day of practice after coming out as trans on Facebook. Both writers spoke at ALA Annual 2018, along with Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Adaptation, who contributed “Meet Cute,” a story about two girls who fall for one another in line at a fan convention, one dressed as Agent Scully, the other as gender-flipped Sulu.

The collection comes to a strong close with “Super Human” by Nicola Yoon, author of The Sun is Also a Star, and Everything, Everything. The world it is set in seems much like our own, but featuring a super hero who has become disillusioned with the people he is trying to save. The point of view is that of the young woman who has been given the seemingly impossible task of convincing X that humanity is still worth saving. But first she must get X to tell her why he has given up hope. This little story packs a big punch, and nicely rounds out an anthology that offers a variety of short fiction which allows diverse readers to see themselves reflected, often in the words of an author who shares their particular experiences.

The Sun is Also a Star

Cover image for The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoonby Nicola Yoon

ISBN 978-0-553-49668-0

“Observable Fact: You should never take long shots. Better to study the odds and take the probable shot. However, if the long shot is your only shot, then you have to take it.”

Natasha is an undocumented Jamaican immigrant who has been in the United States since she was eight years old, and today is her last day in New York. Tonight, she and her family have to get on a plane and go back to Jamaica, all thanks to her father’s DUI. But Natasha is desperate to stay, to graduate high school, to go to college. Everything—her life, her future, almost all of her memories—is here. Daniel is the second son of hard-working South Korean immigrants. Today, he must put on his suit, cut his long hair, and put aside his dreams of being a poet. Today, he has an admissions interview for Yale University, where his parents expect him to study to become a doctor. When Natasha and Daniel’s paths cross, their romance is destined to end almost as soon as it begins. How much can you love in a single day?

When Natasha and Daniel meet, there is an undeniable chemistry, even if Natasha initially—and understandably—refuses to be open to it. She has bigger things to worry about than the cute Korean boy who thinks that they are destined to be together. Nicola Yoon uses this New York Times article as the basis for Daniel and Natasha’s experiment. When the empirical Natasha refuses to accept Daniel’s idealistic belief in love at first sight, he challenges her to spend the day replicating a lab experiment where scientists used increasingly intimate personal questions and prolonged eye contact to try to spark a romance between the subjects. With time to kill before her long-shot appointment with an immigration lawyer that afternoon, Natasha grudgingly agrees.

The Sun is Also a Star requires a certain level of buy-in from the reader. I don’t think you need to believe in love at first sight, but you do need to accept that sometimes two people have an instant, electric connection that signals the possibility of love further down the road. Daniel and Natasha experience an accelerated intimacy spurred by the limitations of circumstance. Whereas Daniel is romantic and idealistic, Natasha has trained herself to guard against disappointment, to always make the reliable choice. She likes things to be quantifiable and certain. I am definitely more Natasha than Daniel, but thanks to Natasha’s healthy skepticism, I was still able to get caught up in their whirlwind romance. If the story had been entirely from Daniel’s point of view, I think I would have had a harder time buying in.

Yoon employs short chapters that alternate quickly between Natasha and Daniel’s perspectives. But sprinkled in are other short interludes from the fleeting perspectives of secondary characters, from waitresses to security guards that they encounter throughout the day. Each glimpse shows that while this is not their story, the secondary characters are fully fledged people with stories of their own. Natasha and Daniel’s actions have ripples that affect these people in ways they could not imagine, just as some of the minor characters have outsize impacts on their single day together. If you can accept the level of coincidence that Yoon employs, these additional perspectives are quite beautiful.

Though Natasha and Daniel’s romance anchors the story, family also plays an important role. Natasha’s father came to New York with dreams of becoming an actor, but has been ground down by repeated failure. Natasha wishes she could blame the failure on her father’s lack of skill, but the truth is that he is a great actor who has be unable to crack a system that is stacked against him. Meanwhile, her mother has worked hard to prop up the family as her father slides into despair. Daniel’s parents have worked hard to give their sons a better future, even if they have a very circumscribed idea of what that success might look like. Daniel and his brother Charlie have a fraught relationship that has been shaped by this pressure. Reflections on immigration, family, and talent add depth to the romantic plot.

Ultimately, I do not think that this is a story that will work for everyone, particularly those who are put off by whirlwind romances, since the love story is the primary narrative here. But if you can get past that initial barrier, Nicola Yoon has written a touching, bittersweet story of first love.

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Also by Nicola Yoon:

Everything, Everything 

Everything, Everything

Cover image for Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoonby Nicola Yoon

ISBN 978-0-553-49664-2

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“At first I just wanted to look out the window. But then I wanted to go outside. And then I wanted to play with the neighborhood kids, to play with all the kids everywhere, to be normal for just an afternoon, a day, a lifetime.”

Seventeen-year-old Madeline Whittier has lived almost her entire life inside the protective cocoon of her spotlessly clean house, breathing filtered air, and avoiding all of the possible triggers that could cause her own body to kill her thanks to Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. The extensive decontamination process for entering the house means the only people Madeline sees on a regular basis are her mother, who is also a doctor, and her nurse, Carla. So Madeline attends school online, reads extensively, posts book reviews on her blog, and enjoys game nights with her mom. For the most part, Madeline is content to explore the world through her books, but when Olly and his family move in next door, suddenly books don’t seem like enough anymore.

If, like me, you remember the terrible 2001 film Bubble Boy starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the premise of this book probably gives you hives. But while Everything, Everything is definitely a romance, crucially, it is not a romantic comedy, though Yoon definitely brings a healthy sense of humour to the table. Rather than playing Madeline’s condition for laughs, her illness becomes a meditation on wanting things we can’t have.

Madeline quickly becomes intrigued with Olly, and his odd hours and strange comings and goings provide ample entertainment outside her window. But her true feelings for him develop slowly, over email and IM, after his bizarre but charming antics convince her to give him her email address against her better judgement. Interspersed with Madeline’s narrative are drawings, emails, instant messages, and even short book reviews that she posts on her blog, all of which develop her character, and show how she builds a connection with Olly online, where she is a free to be a person rather than a patient.

For her part, Carla fulfills a role similar to that of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, aiding and abetting Olly and Madeline’s romance with little regard for the consequences. But Carla allowing her to bend the rules while her mother is at work only leads to Madeline wanting more, wanting everything the world has to offer, not just Olly, but school, and friends, and travel. Taking what little she can have means opening herself up to hurt and disappointment and longing.

A quirky romance with a seemingly insurmountable barrier, Everything, Everything is an incredibly heart-felt exploration of first love under trying conditions.

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