The Sun is Also A Star Review by Nicola Yoon

sun.jpg

A day can equate to a lifetime — or at least 340 pages of a book.

In her acclaimed novel, The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon presents a star-crossed love pair that experiences all the ups and downs of love in a single day. Natasha is an undocumented teenager whose family is slated to be deported that night. Daniel is a senior in high school who must balance his family’s expectations to become a doctor and his own desire to become a poet. Both meet at a records story in New York early in the morning and spend the whole day slowly falling in love with each other.

The day takes up the entire book, albeit the epilogue. While this creates an aura of excitement that quickens the pace of the book and made it hard to put down, the love between Natasha and Daniel felt rushed throughout the book. Daniel almost immediately finds Natasha attractive, but it takes Natasha a bit more time to warm up to Daniel and trust him. Yet, because of the structure of the novel, the pair are confessing their love to each other within a matter of hours of meeting. The pace of the book makes the pair’s connection seem superficial, though both ultimately are likeable and distinct characters. While I admittedly am skeptical when it comes to all love-at-first-sight stories, if Yoon had decided to spread things over a week rather than squish it all into a day, perhaps the romance in the novel would have seemed more genuine.

What will make this book a lasting star in the YA genre is its diverse characters that will allow many teenage readers to have characters that can reflect themselves and their experiences. Rather than tokenizing POC-characters as some YA novels do, Yoon is able to portray a genuinely diverse set of characters by not only writing about and legitimizing their experiences, but also giving them a chance to be just teens. Both Natasha and Daniel come from backgrounds that are rare in the YA genre: Natasha’s comes from a family of immigrants, her father is a security guard/aspiring actor; Daniel’s family owns a black haircare shop. Yoon is able to develop a love that celebrates these backgrounds rather than ignore it. It’s hard to come across a YA romance novel that is able to achieve such a balance between telling diverse experiences and a sweet love story, yet Yoon is able to maintain such a balance — an accomplishment which should be acknowledged.

The novel’s overall structure is also something that is worthy of praise. Not only does Yoon alternate between the perspective of Natasha and Daniel (such a switching of perspective seems to be common for YA novels), but it also incorporate the perspectives of many of some of the other secondary characters in the novel. For example, when Natasha and Daniel are eating at a Korean restaurant and the waitress berates Daniel to teach his “girlfriend” how to use chopsticks, the following two-page chapter is titled “The Waitress” and features a short explanation of how the waitress’ son married a white woman who also did not know how to use chopsticks. Her husband did not approve of the fact that his son was not marrying Korean, so the son and his girlfriend ended up being completely ostracized from the family, even having two kids without the waitress and her husband knowing. The chapter ends with the poignant lines: “Learn how to use chopsticks. This country can’t have everything.”

By allowing readers to step inside the worlds of such a diverse set of characters and the different people around them, Yoon manages to build a novel that will be able to help readers build a sense of empathy and appreciate different cultures. Even though the romance itself comes off as superficial at times, Yoon is still able to achieve much more than the typical YA romance novel often does. For that, readers of all backgrounds and ages will be thankful.

Advertisements

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

under

For Sammy and Andy — two boys on the Oregon Trail — there’s nothing but open land between the beginning of their journey in St. Louis, Missouri and the gold that awaits them in California.

Or, at least that’s what they want people on the trail to think. In Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Sammy and Andy are actually two girls, Samantha and Annamee, hiding under a layer of clothes and self-taught swaggered walks who are running from the law.

The concept of Under a Painted Sky is absolutely fascinating and something that will entice any curious reader. The novel is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Samantha who, after murdering her landlord in an act of self-defense, befriends the landlord’s 16-year-old slave, Annamae, as they desperately leave to St. Louis in search of a future. Samantha is off to find a man a family friend who might be able to help her in California. Annamae, on the other hand, is out to look for her brother, Isaac, who has been sold as a slave at a town called Harper Falls. Neither girl knows exactly what they’ll find on the trail, but both of them know that a heading west would lead them to the right direction, so both head onto the dangerous Oregon Trail as disguised as boys.

On the trail, Sammy and Andy, meet three young cowboys, Peety, Cay and West who befriend them almost instantly. The boys are fun and light-hearted, providing much-needed relief to the tense situation introduced at the beginning of the novel. They also serve as essential allies on the trail, providing Sammy and Andy with supplies, transportation and a sense of protection.

But Sammy and Andy never quite leave the cowboys’ side, though, neglecting their ability to form a true bond of friendship with each other. Both Sammy and Andy spend too much time trying to prove themselves to the three cowboys to really care about what direction the other is heading. While each cares for the other, their relationship lacks depth that makes this statement near the novel’s end come off as forced: “When God took away my father, he gave me a sister. She taught me how to be strong, how to thump my tail” (366). 

A romance develops between the two girls and two of the cowboys — a touch to the novel that comes off as unnecessary and distracts readers to what Under a Painted Sky could have become — a novel about two friends who remain together, despite hardships the trail presents them. The novel’s romance is just one of the many things the novel — from developing friendship, defying gender norms, and taking characters through tough situations — tries to accomplish but ends up falling flat because it is trying to do many different things at once. 

Under a Painted Sky had some really good instances that can help teach readers about intersectionality. The idea that Samantha, as a Chinese American girl, and Annamae have to deal with being women of color on the trail introduces complexities regarding both of their identities. Both girls openly accept their identities, rather than seeing it something as an impediment (beyond the physical appearance of being boys). Because of this, Under a Painted Sky can be a worthwhile read for someone who is interested in adventure, particularly with people of color leads. But the novel’s disappointing lack of development between the relationship between the two main characters may simply leave readers wanting something the novel is unable to provide. 

By: Lauren Aratani

Lee, Stacey. Under a Painted Sky. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.