(THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: the first portion of this review will be spoiler-free, I’ll let you know when that changes)
For the lovers of Everything Everything, November 3rd was a very exciting day. I had the book preordered before I’d even read the synopsis! Obviously, The Sun Is Also A Star is very different in its topic, and the relationship at its centre is even more complicated (if you can believe that anything is more complicated than a relationship with a girl who is allergic to the world). Despite this different field, I still really enjoyed this book, I read it in less than a day and procrastinated all my uni work to finish it. So why not continue the trend, and procrastinate sleeping to write this review.
For those who, like me, didn’t read the synopsis – I’ll be brief. Essentially, this is a story about the impossible love between a Korean boy, on the fast lane to being a doctor, getting married (to a Korean) and being successful and a Jamaican girl, with a love of science, and a looming deportation sentence. Obviously, as is the way in contemporary romance, there is romance.
Although this novel is a contemporary romance at its core, it also addresses the very real and very important issue of racism (particularly poignant after the recent election of Trump). One of the most unique things about this novel was that white characters really weren’t involved, this wasn’t a case of boo-the-white-man, it highlighted very obvious cultural differences between the Jamaican and Korean characters, with their one true likeness, ironically, being their closed mindedness. This portrayal really highlighted the fact that racism exists between all cultures, some more than others.
I also really enjoyed looking at the character of Charlie, who addressing the important issue (particularly for YA readers) of self-acceptance, even when you’re different.
Overall, the cultural and political poignancy of this book was softened by the foregrounded romantic storyline, leaving enough room for self-reflection and growth, without becoming a political novel.
While we’re on the topic of race, I have one last thing to say. One of my biggest pet peeves in Everything Everything was the portrayal of different ethnicities. It’s been a while since I read this book, and so I can’t remember the exact mix that made up Madeline, I’m feeling like it was part Asian and part African-American – but correct me if I’m wrong. Despite this being explicitly said in the book, I didn’t get the sense of any residual cultural or traditional values from this background. Even something as simple as an Asian meal or an African-American tradition of some kind would have been enough to convince me that this was not just a move to be politically correct, but rather to deepen the storyline.
The Sun Is Also A Star flies completely in the face of this, and I’m so glad. Getting to see the cultures and traditions of these two characters really help them fly off the page. I’m sure a lot of this is due to the fact that Nicola Yoon herself is Jamaican, and so is aware of the idiosyncracies of the culture. I loved her use of the habitual be and ‘man’ for the Jamaican characters, and the even so slightly pidginised English for Daniel’s parents. For me, it made the whole reading experience more realistic, which is important in this type of novel.
I have to talk a little bit about the characters of Daniel and Natasha. I love all of Yoon’s characters, she has a way of crafting beautiful, unique, and yet somehow relatable characters. I feel like I know them! I am a particular fan of Daniel, not only because my boyfriend is Malaysian and so I pictured him as I was reading, but just because he’s so darn cute!
If I were to say something negative about this book, it would have to be about the family relationships. I am always disappointed when I flip open a contemporary and see these horrific families. I love it when I can find a novel where families are on good terms (a perfect example of this is To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before). I understand that the characters came together as a result of their troubled backgrounds, but one positive relationship (outside of the one they share with each other would have been nice), maybe Daniel could have been really close with his mum and not just ‘okay’, or maybe we could have had some lovely scenes between Natasha and her little brother. I’m not saying the family had to be perfect, that’s unrealistic, but a little love in their families would have been nice.
(For my non-spoilery folk, I’m going to end this review here, feel free to come back when you’ve read it and let me know what you think!)
I don’t really have a lot more to say to you spoilery people, but I will take a few lines to talk about the general style. For the first few chapters, I was unsure how I felt about Daniel’s little news headlines, but as time went on, I really started to enjoy them. They were a really interesting character trait that I think made him more realistic as a poet. I am however glad Yoon didn’t take it too far (for an example of too far, see I’ll Give You The Sun and read Noah’s mental paintings).
I also really enjoyed the use of multiple perspectives in the novel, not only because it introduced be to Irene (one of the most interesting characters in the whole book), but also because of the interesting effect it had on the narrative. If we weren’t able to see through the eyes of Samuel or Charlie, it would be easy to find them utterly despicable. However, seeing the ‘villains’ from their own perspective, their own emotions, their own justifications and insecurities, really challenges the reader’s perception of good and bad. It added a whole dimension to the narrative that would have been lost otherwise.
Not only that, but it helped break up the short timeline of the book, preventing too much repetition and adding overall interest.
But I’m an honest person, so I’ve got to mention the fact that there were times when the repetition annoyed me (but only slightly). It’s that moment when you’re a quarter of the way through the book and the two significant love interests part ways. You know they’re going to see each other again (with 200 pages left to go they have to). Then, you reach half way, and the two characters claim to be breaking up again. Same thing, you know they’re going to get back together. Then, you get to the end of the book, and they break up AGAIN. Yoon did a good job of making this repetition subtle, but she could’ve eliminated a little bit of that ‘insta-love’ feeling if she’d cut one of the break ups and had them spend more time together. However, I don’t feel the repetition interrupted the narrative and so, overall, this wouldn’t deter me from rereading it.
Overall, I flew through this book, mainly due to Yoon’s flowing writing style and the lighter subject matter than is typical for an English student. No, it wasn’t as good as Everything, Everything (but, to be quite honest, I didn’t expect it to be), it’s a very different sort of book, but it still gave me all the good feelings I got reading her debut. Overall, I gave it 4/5 stars (realistically it’s like a 4.25, but Goodreads won’t let me get that technical).
I really hope you enjoyed this review, and that it inspires you to pick it up (even though I’m a pretty harsh critic). Let me know your thoughts down below!