Friday, 23 December 2016

The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon

SBR's 2016 Best Read

Publication date: 1st November 2016
Published by: Delacorte
Genre: Contemporary fiction for young adults

Publisher's synopsis
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Sooz Book Reviews Gold Seal of Approval

 My Review
This book was brought to my attention a few weeks ago as a new publication recommended by a contributor to the New York Times Book Podcast.  Generally they don't disappoint so I got hold of a copy.  More recently, I noticed it was the 3rd highest scored book on the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 in the category of contemporary YA fiction (although, to be honest, I have found this to be a less reliable source for recommended reads).

It is a short book (348 pages paperback version), and I whizzed through it over 48 hours, mainly because once I got started I could not put it down.  I had to force myself to do so and, each time I did, I spent my time looking forward to picking it back up again!

As alluded to in the publication synopsis, this novel is a bittersweet teenage love story, but it is much more than that.  Mainly it is about cause-and-effect.  It seeks to demonstrate how certain actions set off a chain reaction.  The reader sees how the decisions taken by one character has consequences that affect others, some in positive others in negative ways.  We may know this is true, but to be able to observe how it happens through this story is quite impressive.  Nicola Yoon does this by giving us snippets of backstory, not only of those close to Natasha and Daniel but also some of the strangers they interact with.  The result leads to thoughts of what if? and contemplation of the multitude of options/possibilities out there (which was both explored by the main characters, and formed part of my own thought processes).

It was a joy to read a novel featuring characters that generally don't get enough prominence in fiction+.  Natasha is Jamaican and, although Daniel is American, he is of South Korean descent.  Why does diversity matter?  Well, it does not if you want more of the same, over and over.  If on the other hand, you are open minded, curious and care enough about the lives other people, then I imagine it matters quite a lot.  Personally, I think fiction should be about walking in someone else's shoes once in a while.  In this case, what it is like to be a teenage migrant (or the offspring of migrants), not quite accepted in the country where you have settled and feeling a stranger in the country you were born (or your parents come from).  Yoon has steered clear of politics, so it does not touch on the hot topic of xenophobia and anti-immigration - which, when you think about it, would add to the difficulties these two teenagers would be experiencing in the real world.

I liked that neither Tasha nor Daniel are stereotyped. They are portrayed on an equal platform to Caucasian leading characters. The book also explores the generational divide, the clashing of cultures and racism, and does so objectively - so you get to see both points of view.  The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.... (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

We know that individuals are affected by and respond to experiences in different ways, and we see the contrasting effects that not belonging, being constantly made to feel 'different', and the pressure to conform have on Daniel and his brother Charles, shaping them into very different personalities, and driving them apart.

The Sun is also a Star is an excellent read, both thought-provoking and affecting. This is the first book I have read by Nicola Yoon but I will definitely be reading more - and not only because she has written the kind of book I aspire to write!

Potential Spoiler Alert!
My one criticism of the book is that it is overly contrived in parts - particularly the epilogue. The trouble with Deus ex machina is that it is at odds with the suspension of disbelief.

+ Some may dismiss this sentiment as 'multicultural left wing' nonsense, or put it down to the fact that I am an ethnic minority and therefore more inclined to give a you know what, but, hey, each to their own.

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