Review: The Sun is Also a Star

“Before the deportation notice, he refused to speak with a Jamaican accent or use Jamaican slang.” p. 25

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
Delacorte Press, Penguin Random House, 2016.
YA romance, 348 pages.
Lexile: HL650L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 10.0 points)

This book takes place over one very intense day.  Natasha is a serious girl who loves science and music.  Daniel is a romantic boy who loves poetry but works diligently to meet his parents high expectations.  When they meet on the streets of New York City, love is destined, except for one catch: Natasha’s family is about to be deported.  Can she stay in America?  Can they somehow make it work?  Is love really about fate or just a chemical reaction in the brain?

the-sun-is-also-a-star
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

As Natasha and Daniel are telling their story, there are interludes from a third person perspective that give more information about various details and background about people in their lives.

This review is a case of me being impatient.  The library has this book but the hold list was so long that I bought it instead.  Honestly, I nearly bought Everything, Everything but knew from reading reviews that I would probably regret that.  Although the book was fine, I do wish I had just waited.

My initial impression was that this book was half love story and half about the deportation.  Natasha’s impending deadline was very present, but the love story was definitely the focus of the book.  I also thought that it was written in Natasha’s voice.  Two viewpoints alternating often throws me, and to add the third person interludes really surprised me.  They were well written, but I just didn’t get as into it as I would a book with one narrator.

The way in which Daniel was introduced caused me to not like him initially, as he mainly spent all his time complaining about his brother Charlie (about whom so much has been said elsewhere, I’m not going to discuss him much in this review).

Spoilers (but mild ones)
Most of the reviews I read prior to buying this book did not mention Irene.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I knew instantly upon reading her first scene what an important character she was and kept waiting for more of her story.  I think if some of the other characters (like the bus conductor) were named it would have drawn less attention to her.

I’m sure it was a major part of the reason many people loved the book, but I found the ending to be very unrealistic, and it cemented this book in the “romance” category for me.

I greatly appreciated that they didn’t have sex.  Some teens may feel that they even went too far for a first meeting, but the depiction of teenage lust (on both sides) was very reasonable.  There was some swearing but it was contextually acceptable and not gratuitous.  While I would not give this book to my middle school students, it is definitely appropriate for high school students and beyond.
/End Spoilers

Probably my favorite part of this book was the cultural details and discussions the characters have about race, such as how Daniel (born in America) is identified as Korean while Jamaican Natasha is often identified as American, or why so many black hair care stores are owned by Koreans.  These discussions feel normal to me at this point in my life but will bring new ideas to the minds of many white readers.  They also are a great role model for all teens of how to have thoughtful conversations about race and avoid racism without trying to be “color blind”.

Some of the dialogue with the parents was written in broken English.  I didn’t have any problem with it – the author is Jamaican so the dialect felt authentic rather than forced, the meaning was clear, and the novel still flowed.

I also loved that Natasha was so science-minded and dropping in constant tidbits about physics and astronomy (including the one where the title came from) and examining the science behind love and attraction.  It makes me so happy when a black girl is talking about the wonders of science!  (Mae Jemison <3)

This book is very topical today as America engages in a debate about children whose parents illegally entered the United States and raised them here.  What rights do those children have?  I definitely could see this book being a starting point for many discussions about immigration, culture, love, science, and more.  That is a lot packed into a teen romance!

Overall, this book reminded me of a movie I saw once called Crash.  The main focus on this book is a teenage romance rather than a car crash, but otherwise there were many similarities – intersecting lives, coincidences that feel like destiny, pithy commentary on race relations in America.

While I felt kind of blase about this one after all the hype, I think many teens will enjoy it.  Certainly it was refreshing to read an interracial romance between a sexy Asian boy and a Jamaican immigrant girl, and I’m glad it became a bestseller so that teens will pick it up and diversify their reading a little.

As for adults, I think those who already read romances or otherwise find an aspect of this book intriguing will enjoy it.  If I had come across this as a random pick, I would probably have loved it.  Unfortunately there were too many elements that weren’t as expected.  I’m going to ponder this and maybe reread later.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

9 thoughts on “Review: The Sun is Also a Star”

  1. I appreciate how you pointed out that this book could be used as springboard for having meaningful discussions about race as an important part of a character’s lived experiences. That’s something I think Yoon handled well while inhabiting Daniel and Tasha’s voices. I agree that the ending was *highly* improbable (though, as my heart is made entirely of cheese, I committed to it anyway.)

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    1. If I worked with high school students I definitely use this book because I think it would start great conversations – her commentary on race was the strongest part of the book. I felt cheated by the ending – if it was marketed as a romance I would have expected it, but it was billed as realistic fiction. Probably when I re-read it I’ll enjoy it more when I am prepared for the romance aspect.

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  2. I’ve heard so many great things about this one and it sounds like many important aspects about culture and racism and handled well. Have the book on my tbr but not quite sure about it since the romance seems quite central.

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    1. There was a lot to love here – the discussions and commentary between Natasha and Daniel about culture and race were the strongest part of the book. However there were definitely aspects that pushed the book into YA romance for me so I would rather have checked it out from the library. The romance means this will reach readers not often exposed to these types of discussion, but just be prepared for the deportation narrative to be secondary to the romance aspect in the plot.

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    1. I haven’t read Everything, Everything, but after reading the sample chapters and reviews, I definitely won’t be purchasing it. The Sun is Also a Star is good for what it is, which is somewhat over-hyped teen romance. I would be curious to read your opinion on the legal issues surrounding the deportation if you do read it.

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  3. I do hope many teens are picking this book up and falling in love with Natasha and Daniel! I’m not a teen but enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. The ending melted my heart, haha, but I understand if other people didn’t think it was realistic. But at least Natasha’s legal status wasn’t magically fixed in a day. That would have annoyed me more, I think. Often stories about undocumented immigrants end with the legal status being fixed before they can have a happy ending.

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    1. If I had initially approached it as a teen romance I would have enjoyed it more (and as a teen I would have loved it). You make a good point about the immigration status being realistically dealt with – honestly for half the book I was worried they were going to do a green card marriage which would have been very upsetting.

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