Tag: Nicola Yoon

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 

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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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