Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a young-adult novel told from multiple character perspectives that documents the romance between an undocumented black Jamaican girl, Natasha Katherine Kingsley, and first-generation Korean immigrant, Daniel Jae Ho Bae. Yoon explores the budding relationship of the two protagonists from different...

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a young-adult novel told from multiple character perspectives that documents the romance between an undocumented black Jamaican girl, Natasha Katherine Kingsley, and first-generation Korean immigrant, Daniel Jae Ho Bae. Yoon explores the budding relationship of the two protagonists from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds and how it impacts the people around them.

Natasha’s family is being forced to leave the U.S. because her father is detained while drunk-driving and reveals to the police that they are in the country illegally. Though her family is reluctantly accepting of its impending deportation, Natasha meets with an immigration lawyer, hoping to delay or reverse the decision.

Daniel’s passion is in writing poetry and the creative arts. However, he feels pressured to attend an interview with a Yale alumnus to satisfy his parents dream from him to pursue the medical field at the prestigious Ivy League institution. In a case of serendipity Daniel meets Natasha while she is on her way to see another immigration lawyer.

On the surface, Natasha and Daniel are clearly mismatch. She is more practical, while he is the romantic dreamer. She is an undocumented Jamaican immigrant with very little recollection of her life on the Caribbean island; he is the son of South Korean small business owners. Yet, the sincerity and audacity of their conversation and interaction with one another belie their external differences. Natasha and Daniel’s relationship serves as a reminder of the power of love, courage, and a spirit of independence to effect positive change in the lives of others, and not to just change lives but sometimes to save one.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1113

Author: Nicola Yoon

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Romance; Realism

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: New York City

Principal characters

Natasha, a Jamaican American teenager and undocumented immigrant

Daniel, a Korean American teenager

Charlie, his older brother

The Story

Nicola Yoon's second young-adult novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, is told in short chapters from many different perspectives. Lives intersect, and everyone, including main characters Natasha and Daniel, a grumpy waitress, an evangelical subway train conductor, and a lonely security guard, gets to tell their stories. The bulk of the novel takes place over the course of a single fall day in New York City. Brooklynite Natasha and her parents came from Jamaica as undocumented immigrants. After her father's arrest for drunk driving and hitting a police car reveals their undocumented status, the family faces deportation that night. Natasha hurries to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services building to make a last-ditch case for herself, her parents, and her little brother, Peter, who was born in the United States. It is out of character for Natasha to make a trip like this because, as a scientist and physics lover, she knows better than to hope for a miracle that will keep her in her science magnet school and send her to college. Still, she goes. However, in a fortuitous twist that sets the plot in motion, she is late for her appointment, after a lonely security guard takes too long rifling through her belongings. Courtesy of Delacorte Press

Meanwhile, a teenage boy named Daniel prepares for an admissions interview for Yale University. He cannot tell his parents—hardworking Korean immigrants who were raised in poverty and want him to go to an Ivy League college and become a doctor—that he is a poet. His cruel, self-loathing older brother, Charlie, recently failed out of Harvard University, and Daniel feels especially saddled with his family's hopes.

Daniel, charged with bringing a money pouch to his father's store in Harlem, is determined to let the universe guide him on what he views as his last day of freedom. A series of coincidences—a stalled train, a lecture from an evangelical conductor—lead him to Natasha, who, through another series of coincidences, now has the name of a "fixer" (lawyer) who might be able to help her. The two teenagers meet at a record store, where they catch Natasha's ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend stealing records. Daniel, a romantic, is convinced he is falling in love with Natasha and tries to convince her to love him back using a scientific questionnaire. She thinks this is ridiculous, but she is beguiled by his earnest interest in her and his willingness to engage in philosophical discussions.

Natasha tries to meet with the fixer, Jeremy Fitzgerald, but he has been in a car accident; her appointment is rescheduled for later that day. Meanwhile, Daniel postpones his interview and the two embark on a day together. They drop the money pouch off with Daniel's father, but the meeting goes poorly. Daniel's father and brother are openly disdainful of Daniel's interest in Natasha because she is black. After apologizing for his family's behavior, he takes her to Koreatown, where they sing karaoke and enjoy their first kiss. Natasha then explains to him that they cannot be together as she is being deported.

Though this revelation leads to an argument and their separation, they each eventually think better of it and try to find one another again—without phone numbers or last names. In the meantime, Fitzgerald has told Natasha that her problem can be solved easily—she will not have to leave that night. Returning to Daniel's parents' store, she convinces Charlie, Daniel's terrible brother, to perform what Yoon describes as the only kind gesture he will ever make: he gives her Daniel's phone number. Therefore, Natasha and Daniel are able to meet again. Coincidentally, Fitzgerald also turns out to be Daniel's admissions interviewer. At their interview, Fitzgerald confesses to Daniel that his plan did not work—Natasha and her family will have to leave later that night. Daniel meets Natasha's family and Natasha confronts her father. Ultimately, she leaves with her family for Jamaica. The two try to keep in touch for years but eventually grow apart due to the distance. Ten years later, through the intervention of the security guard from the beginning of the novel, they meet again on a plane.

Critical Evaluation

The Sun Is Also a Star was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2016. Yoon's first novel for young adults, Everything, Everything, was published in 2015 and was adapted into a film starring Amandla Stenberg in 2017. Yoon grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn and studied electrical engineering. Her husband, whom she met in graduate school, is Korean American, and The Sun Is Also a Star draws on elements of their relationship.

The novel also received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. A reviewer for the former called the book "deeply moving and satisfying," adding that it could have been "a sappy, saccharine story of love conquering all, but Yoon's lush prose chronicles an authentic romance that's also a meditation on family, immigration, and fate." This view is supported by the book's ending, which does not include a neat, superficial resolution in which love manages to overcome even the ambiguous and complicated landscape of illegal immigration but instead offers a more realistic conclusion that proves sincere and thought-provoking. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly additionally noted the depth of Yoon's character development, writing that she displays "a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of every character she introduces" in the story. Overall, Yoon successfully combines big, philosophical ideas about fate and the universe with an engaging love story. She illustrates how people unwittingly shape the lives of other people, for the better but also for the worse. Subplots explore the challenges of familial expectation (experienced by Daniel) but also the crush of true regret (Natasha's aspiring actor father). Through the prism of other people's lives, the reader is offered both a joyful and wrenching view of Natasha and Daniel on the cusp of adulthood, yearning to discover their future.

Further Reading

  • Review of The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon. Kirkus Reviews, 1 Sept. 2016, p. 123. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=122142645&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 26 Apr. 2018.
  • Review of The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon. Publishers Weekly, 12 Sept. 2016, p. 60. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=118116165&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 26 Apr. 2018.
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