The Sun is Also a Star ~ Nicola Yoon

“We’re undocumented immigrants, and we’re being deported tonight. Today is my last chance to try to convince someone – or fate – to help me find a way to stay in America. To be clear: I don’t believe in fate. But I’m desperate.” ~ Natasha

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. […] I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m experiencing right now. The only slight (possibly insurmountable) problem is that I’m pretty sure that Natasha is not.” ~ Daniel

Natasha is an undocumented immigrant whose family moved to New York from Jamaica when she was eight. Her life is here, in the US, but today is her last day before she gets deported. Instead of packing or saying goodbye to the only place she calls home, Natasha departs on an adventure to try and stop her family’s deportation.

Daniel is the second son of Korean immigrants, their second chance at having a son graduate from “second-best school,” Yale. Today is his Yale interview; the first step towards becoming a doctor, a career Daniel has zero interest in. On his way uptown, Daniel notices a cute, African-American girl dancing her way down the street. He’s hooked.

Once they meet, Daniel and Natasha spend the day together exploring New York City, falling in love, and most importantly, trying to stop Natasha’s deportation. Along the way, they learn about each other’s families, their dreams, and themselves. In her novel, Yoon presents two contrasting yet honest portrayals of children of immigrants in the United States and their search to find out who they are and who they want to become.

The novel is made all the more interesting because each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, focusing mainly on Natasha and Daniel, while also providing the perspectives of other minor characters – or the universe – on the events of the day. Because of this, Yoon is able to show how a variety of characters in the same city – even family – can experience the world so differently. Somehow, these characters’ stories are all interconnected though, implying that fate might actually exist, no matter how little Natasha believes in it.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

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“I stare up at this house. It’s my father’s home too. It’s my home, they tell me. But right now, all I can see is a large cinder box that traps me inside.”

Naila is about to graduate high school in Florida and start a prestigious combined medical program at a University a few hours away from home with her best friend, Carla and boyfriend, Saif. Her ultra-conservative, Pakistani parents don’t know about that second part though. Naila is not allowed to have a boyfriend, let alone hang out with boys. Her parents will choose her future husband. Naila has been lying to her parents for a year about Saif, but when she sneaks out to Prom, her parents catch them together.

Livid, Naila’s parents decide to leave for a last minute, month-long family trip to Pakistan days before her graduation. Once there, Naila finally meets her aunts, uncles, cousins, and actually finds herself enjoying her time in Pakistan. However, unbeknownst to Naila, her parents have decided to arrange her marriage within the next few weeks and don’t intend for her to return to Florida with them. Naila struggles to fight against her parents’ wishes as she comes to terms with the fact that her core values and beliefs conflict with those of her parents.

This is the story about the dissonance between immigrant parents and their children’s values. Saeed shows how far parents will go in order to do what they think is best for their children, as well as the difficulties children of immigrants face in making sense of their different identities. This novel plays with themes of immigrant families, coming home, arranged marriage, and resilience within the poignant and emotional story of a teenager learning to stand up for herself. Naila’s story is one that is unfortunately more common than we realize, but Saeed’s take on it offers a unique and more accessible perspective.

Trigger Warning: instances of rape and physical abuse.

Saeed, Aisha. Written in the Stars. New York: Speak, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016. Print.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7“Nothing before you counts,” he said. “And I can’t even imagine an after.”

She shook her head. “Don’t.

“What?”

“Don’t talk about after.”

“I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you, too…. That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.”

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a tale of young love that is a dynamic and heart-warming read.  Using witty, candid, and thoughtful language, Rowell explores the unique love that exists in the confines of high school while also exploring the impact of family and personal history.  Following the typical chain of events of a real high school relationship, Park and Eleanor meet on the school bus, have English class together, and struggle through the same school bullies and woes of gym class.

Although a high school love story may seem like a fairly typical premise of a young adult novel, Rowell defies the high school sweetheart archetype by creating complex protagonists with personalities and histories full of nuance and mystery.

Eleanor and Park’s family backgrounds at first appear insignificant to the relationship, but prove to be the most important component to understanding their future as a couple. Eleanor grew up in a broken and dysfunctional family. Stricken with poverty and harmed by abuse, Eleanor was never exposed to healthy love. Park however, grew up in a stable and supportive household with parents who love each other and care for their family. With two wildly different homes, the love that Eleanor and Park develop gains nuance and surprise. Getting to know the real Eleanor and the authentic Park builds a plot that keeps the reader constantly discovering new things about the characters’ identities and how each learns to love.

The intense backgrounds, and the effects it has on Eleanor in particular is atypical to many high school love stories, but it is precisely what makes this book so successful. The inclusion and acknowledgement of the effects of family dynamics adds a dimension to the narrative that is often missing in young adult novels, but that is crucial in creating a more complex and relatable character.

With a universally relatable theme of adolescence and love, the book is fitting for all ages. For older readers, the story provokes a sense of nostalgia for youth while enhancing the reader’s own appreciation for young love, even imbuing the reader with a sense of hope.  For younger readers, the experiences are relatable for most and will evoke empathy in all. In sum, Eleanor and Park is a must-read for anyone who has ever been in love, who is still looking to find the one, or has the real belief that personal background is important to acknowledge and explore.

By: Anna Fireman

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. Print.

Thirteen Reasons Why

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Have you ever gotten a package in the mail that you didn’t expect? Did you feel excited? Curious about what someone might have sent you unprompted? Well that is exactly what happened to Clay Jensen. Returning home from school one day he finds a package addressed to him with no return label on his front porch. Upon opening it he finds thirteen cassette tapes with recordings from Hannah Baker, a girl at school he has loved from afar for years. There is just one catch – Hannah Baker killed herself a few weeks earlier. And the first tape says Clay is responsible.

This novel follows Clay over the course of a day as he listens to all thirteen tapes, desperate to understand his role in this tragedy. Hannah leads him through her time at high school, starting as the “new girl” when she moved to town up to the day before she committed suicide. Each tape tells a story dedicated to someone she holds responsible for her decision – both classmates and teachers. The stories depict moments, seemingly insignificant to outsiders but which hold great weight to Hannah. Clay walks the neighborhood, tracing Hannah’s footsteps to locations associated with each tape. A local ice cream parlor, the English classroom they shared, the house of an infamous party. As the sky gets darker so do the tapes until all Clay wants is to forget what he has heard. The secrets run deep and are raw with emotion, Clay will never look at his fellow classmates the same way.

The novel reads quickly with each chapter associated with one tape that ultimately weaves together to form the final story of Hannah Baker. As the reader become invested in Clay Jensen’s story the suspense to uncover his role in all this keeps the pages turning. Clay learns not only secrets from these tapes but also the power of rumors and individuals have on the lives of those around us.

By Grace Molino

Citation

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

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When Kivali–better known as Lizard–was little, her guardian, Sheila, told her that the lizard people dropped her on Earth as a baby to one day meet a great destiny. Lizard doesn’t know if that’s true or not, but she has always felt different from other kids; in the world of Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio, Lizard is what’s known as a “bender,” a person whose assigned gender is different from their actual experience of their gender: a trans person, in our world. Even though she uses she/her/hers as her pronouns, Lizard has never felt like a girl, and sometimes that makes her feel like she’s not even human. Her identity is a total mystery to her. Everything gets even more confusing when Sheila drops her off at a place called CropCamp, a government-run summer camp for teenagers, where she’s supposed to learn how to farm and become a good citizen. Sheila hates the government, though, and has always told Lizard to stand up to authority, so why would she send her here?

This book is awesome and magical in a lot of ways, including the weird, wonderful language of the narration, the complexity of the friendships that Lizard makes, the characters themselves, the nuances and secrets of the society they live in, and the fact that the narrator is so often confused; it’s a treasure trove for anyone who loves stories of summer camps and/or dystopian worlds, and it’s intensely relatable for folks of LGBTQ+ identities.

Lizard’s confusion–about who she is, what she wants, who she’s supposed to be, etc.–is one of my favorite things about Lizard Radio. For many LGBTQ+ people in our world, coming out is a scary and potentially dangerous process in which the risks are so great that it’s safer to pretend to be something we’re not, or to try to actually become that thing; we worry all the time that the people around us might catch on to our real selves. We can’t afford to be confused or even look like we’re confused, because that could lead to us getting bullied, harassed, thrown out of our homes, physically attacked, arrested, or killed. The fact that Lizard is allowed to be confused about herself throughout the book is invaluable for young LGBTQ+ readers who feel the same way about themselves, and it’s one of many things that make Lizard a compelling character and narrator.

My other favorite part of this book is how the characters are the main focus. It’s not trying to be A Book About LGBTQ+ Issues–it’s a book about kids. They all feel real; nobody is all good or all bad, and it’s hard to fully love or hate anyone. Lots of strange and interesting things happen, and there are new terms to learn and ideas to grapple with, but at the end of the day, Lizard Radio shows its heart in its characters, and that’s what makes it so good and so fun to read.

Schmatz, Pat. Lizard Radio. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015. Print.