As an aspiring young adult author, I'm so disheartened when I catch wind of any discussion that classifies young adult lit as superficial or not to be taken seriously. Let me be perfectly clear: just because something is made for (or marketed to) young people (or even children), that does not mean it's not something of real value. If you write off a young adult romance because you don't think teens are smart or sensitive enough to form meaningful relationships and learn in the process, 1) you're missing out, and 2) you need Nicola Yoon in your life.
Yoon's second novel, The Sun Is Also A Star, weaves a unique and gripping tale of a teen romance that's quickly running out of time, but it's also something more than a love story. The added weight of identity, ambition, and family impacts Daniel and Natasha's relationship, and their futures, perhaps even more than the ticking clock.
Sun Is Also A Star is so compelling because we get to know the characters deeply from multiple angles. The story is told mainly in the alternating perspectives of Natasha, an aspiring data scientist whose family is being deported to Jamaica, and Daniel, a Korean-American younger brother interviewing with a college he's not sure he wants to attend. Not only do we benefit from the first-person experience of both protagonists, but the novel offers much more: personal histories of supporting characters, views of unseen events happening concurrently to the main narrative, and even history and science lessons,
You might think you'd get lost in such a flexible perspective, but that never happens because every detail teaches us something new about Daniel and Natasha; That's how I got so invested that I read the book in only two separate sittings.
In a story where the protagonists debate the idea of fate vs. chance so extensively, it's extremely appropriate that we, as readers, see every circumstance that brought Daniel and Natasha together. Whether we're on Daniel's romantic side or Natasha's practical side of the debate on destiny, it's hard not to believe that the two weren't just a little meant-to-be.
What's more, The Sun Is Also A Star delves into the dynamics of each protagonist's immigrant family and how the legacy of another culture affects expectations for the future. Both Daniel and Natasha have a personal arc that develops their character outside the romance. Daniel has to decide if he'll choose his future or let it be chosen for him, while Natasha fights to save the family she's not sure her father ever wanted. Yoon's writing recognizes that love doesn't happen in a vacuum: life is still happening all around these protagonists who grapple with more than just the nervousness and anticipation of a potential relationship. The realistic complexity of Daniel's and Natasha's own worlds is what made me so emotionally invested in finding out which path they'd choose.
The novel portrays culture and nationality through the ways each protagonist's family affects the choices they make. Both families came to New York City in hopes of working hard for a better life—the American Dream that simultaneously exists in some form and doesn't exist at all. Opportunity treated each family differently, and the success (or lack thereof) the Yangs and the Kingstons found in America affects how they relate to their children. Dreams mean something different to each character because of the place they were born and the opportunities they've had, tying dreams inextricably to the identities Daniel and Natasha are attempting to craft and discover.
Today's America is more polarized than it's ever been, and what I got from Yoon's depiction of culture was an implication that we could all understand each other better if we took a moment to understand the backgrounds that affect each other's values and choices.
The coming-of-age story has a long legacy in literature for acting as a window for self-reflection, regardless of the reader's age. Teenagers deal with all kinds of transitions, which makes them the perfect protagonist for this kind of story. If we look close enough at Natasha and Daniel in The Sun Is Also A Star, most of us can see ourselves at some point in our lives—making choices that determine our futures in ways we could never see coming.
Have any thoughts on The Sun Is Also A Star? What's something a young adult novel has taught you using the perspective of a teenager? Leave it in a comment below!