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.