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.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

“We fold our immigrant selves into this veneer of what we think is African American girlhood. The result is more jagged than smooth.”

-Ibi Zoboi, Author’s Note

American Street by Ibi Zoboi–a Haitian immigrant author–begins with opportunity and heartbreak as Fabiola Toussaint finally makes it from Haiti to America while her mother is set to be deported back.

Fabiola soon discovers that her aunt and cousins who sent for them have absconded their Haitian heritage to become fully “Americanized.” As the sole representative of her culture, Fabiola becomes “Fabulous,” a brave teen who approaches the challenges of inner city Detroit with the magical realism of her Haitian Vodou culture. Her desire to bring her mother back sees her navigate love, loyalties, and problems in her community.

Zoboi’s first novel is brilliantly written, vividly transcribed in the magic of Fabiola’s culture. That being said, it also very quickly degenerates into some disappointingly obtuse stereotypes of black American girls–including superficiality, perpetual female in-fighting, using drug dealing as the only legitimate source of income, and cyclic (almost valorized) domestic abuse. As honest as this may be to many personal experiences, including perhaps Zoboi’s, I found the text too often offensive and problematic for young people looking for a window into the black and immigrant narrative. It was offensive not at the inclusion of these themes, but in its treatment.

As the son of a Jamaican immigrant woman, I was looking for a mirror to validate some of my own family’s experiences between Canada and America. This book did not provide that; Fabiola valued family loyalty and selfish personal relationships over justice in explicit and problematic ways. Young people looking for a window into immigrant culture will entirely miss the narrative of hard-working Caribbean men and women that was the story of my family and my first generation peers’ families. There must also be more done in a novel like this to explicitly take issue with the horrific domestic abuse in teen relationships seen in the story.

I wish this text could intentionally and consistently problematize these stereotypes more, as Gene Lang did in American Born Chinese. Alas, the text was a bit too ambitious with other themes–like romance, culture shock, family loyalty, and (somewhat) police brutality–to significantly question these facets.

I recommend this book for young people looking for accounts of diverse experiences and magical realism narratives, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it for an accurate or healthy portrayal of immigrant (or black American) subcultures.

By Kashmeel McKoena

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. New York, NY: Balzer Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2017. Print.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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What if you couldn’t see war happening around you, but you could hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it?

What if everything you believed to be wrong, suddenly became right?

Does morality still exist in wartime? Can kindness survive?

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See explores these poignant questions and more by telling the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, a blind French girl and young German soldier, respectively, as each struggle to survive the immense horrors of WWII.

After fleeing war-torn Paris, Marie-Laure and her beloved father find refuge at the seaside home of an allusive great-uncle. She can hear the waves crashing just outside the window, and excitedly awaits the day when her father will bring her to feel the sand beneath her toes. After her father leaves town for what is promised to be a short trip and never returns, however, Marie-Laure must for the first time in her life, navigate the world on her own, and in the meantime, discovers she is harboring a dangerous secret.

While Marie-Laure is confined to the walls of Saint-Malo, Werner’s career as a member of Hitler Youth and later, as a Nazi soldier, takes him from a German orphanage across Europe and eventually, to the home of Marie-Laure’s great uncle. As their two journeys collide, Werner faces the moral dilemma of following his heart or his training, leaving the fate of Marie-Laure – and her secret – in his hands.

A masterfully written tale of perseverance, All the Light We Cannot See will have adolescent and adult readers alike considering questions of morality, loyalty, and love, in a truly powerful way that transcends time and space.

By: Mia Rotondi

Full publishing citation: Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York, NY: Scribner, 2017. Print.

 

Trafficked by Kim Purcell

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Human trafficking is one of the most covert, nightmarish occurrences of modern society.

Trafficked, a novel by Kim Purcell, dives into the calamity head-on, as 17-year-old Hannah is sold into trafficking without the slightest clue of her fate. Hailing from the European country of Moldova roughly a year after the death of both her parents, Hannah finds herself flying to America, in hopes of a better way of life following the tragedies of her terrorism-struck country. However, the hopeful dreams associated with the American Dream quickly fade upon her arrival in the States. The family that has “hired” her has actually enlisted her a slave, nullifying her ability to make contact with the outside world, her family, or anyone who could help her escape the Russian family that bought and detained her. Trafficked follows the life of Hannah as she discovers her role in a foreign world, where her body is made currency and without chance for buy-out.

The themes that resonate with Trafficked are predominantly immigration and human trafficking. However, the novel portrays the very real issue of human trafficking through a unique lens. For example, human trafficking is often though of as occurring to girls and women in countries outside of the US; in Trafficked, human trafficking is exemplified in Los Angeles, California. Hannah is also bought by a Russian family living in the United States, who adds an additional layer of interest to her role in the novel, especially as it pertains to the nature of American immigrants. Additionally, the victims of human trafficking are historically girls and women of color, which brings about a contentious aspect of the novel. In portraying a victim of human trafficking as being a white girl in the United States, it offers a unique perspective, but arguably silences the narratives of the marginalized groups that human trafficking most commonly targets. That being said, Trafficked divulges a viewpoint that catalyzes animated ideas and conversations pertaining to race, culture, politics, and female identity.

Trafficked proffers a portrayal of a normal girl who takes a risk to better her way of life. Regardless of outcome, Hannah exemplifies anyone willing to emigrate for the chance to be something greater than they could be in their native country. Because of Hannah’s unique role in the the canon of human trafficking, Trafficked would be an excellent story for any adolescent reader interested in the trials of immigration and/or modern slavery.

By Thea Monje

Purcell, Kim. Trafficked. New York: Speak, 2013. Print.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

8306857Have you ever been described as awkward? Or maybe you have that one (maybe 17) incredibly awkward moments that you’d much rather forget? Well believe me when I say that author Issa Rae knows exactly how you feel and basically just wrote a book about it.

Whether you know who Issa Rae is or not, this memoir will have you chuckling with each page. Most known for her web series Awkward Black Girl and new HBO series Insecure, Issa Rae explains her path to adulthood in a witty and captivating manner. Coming from a Senegalese immigrant family, Rae describes what it was like growing up in a Maryland/Senegal/Los Angeles. Narrating her life through various entertaining chapters, Rae explores her love life, her inability to dance and what it was like growing up as an awkward black girl. From discussing her obsession with online chat rooms in middle school to her useful guides in how to interact with the ever-fascinating awkward black person, Rae pulls readers into a her life and provides a valued lesson with the end of each chapter.

This book speaks to people of all ages. While there are some times where the references she makes in the book go over the heads of younger audiences, Rae makes up for it in the relevance of her hilarious teenage mishaps. You walk away from this book feeling as though you are understood, feeling as though Rae spent the past 250 pages essentially telling you that she’s been there. In a smart way, Issa Rae makes space for people who feel as though they don’t belong anywhere else. Whether you’re black, white, awkward, introvert, extrovert, this book provides a place for you to enjoy a little humor.

By: Carina Cruz

Rae, Issa. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. New York: 37 Ink/Atria Books. 2015. Ebook.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

8306857Fact #1: Not all Iranians eat falafel.

Fact #2: Not all Iranians ride on camels.

Fact #3: Not all Iranian kill political opponents, suppress women’s rights, and hold fifty-two American citizens as hostages.

When her family moves to sunny Newport Beach, California, Zomorod Yousefzadeh is determined to become a normal American girl. At first, things are looking promising—her teachers call her Cindy, she joins the Girl Scout Troop, and eats tacos at a friend’s house. As long as her mom isn’t offering stuffed grape leaves to the neighbors, Zomorod feels like she’s starting to fit in.

Then, without warning, the shah in Iran is overthrown and fifty-two American citizens are taken hostage. Suddenly, everyone is asking Zomorod about her country’s new oppressive leader. As the hostage crisis continues, people start to hurl tomatoes and litter her driveway. Her mother cries all day, and her father loses his job. When will Zomorod ever be able to live a “regular” life?

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel provides a refreshing narrative about a Middle Eastern girl adapting to a new environment. As a bicultural girl growing up in the United States, I especially related to Zomorod’s embarrassment about her mother’s unwillingness to learn English and make American friends. That being said, because the book follows a middle school protagonist, adolescents looking for emotionally complex reflections on cultural identity might find this book dissatisfying. Its simple sentences structures and short chapters, though, make the text accessible to adolescents reading below grade level.

This semi-autobiographical novel provides an authentic voice for children caught between two cultures. Readers can also learn about real historical events from a first-person perspective and understand how ignorance and xenophobia can lead to hate crime. Especially because of the rampant Islamophobia in America today, Zomorod’s honest story is relevant, eye opening, and valuable.

By Sally

Dumas, Firoozeh. 2016. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

“What makes a place your own? What makes a home a home? It wasn’t something simple, like a familiar bench, or a fisherman’s yellow sweater vest with a hole in it, or the nut-man’s fat red turban. It was more mysterious…” (Nye 116)

These are the questions at the center of Naomi Shihab Nye’s new middle-grade novel, The Turtle of Oman, which follows Aref, a young Omani boy who discovers that he must leave his beloved childhood home behind for a life halfway across the globe. With both of his parents, professors at the local university, poised to begin their doctorates at the University of Michigan in the fall, Aref must spend the last few weeks of the summer coming to terms with leaving the only home he’s ever known. Even though he already speaks English fluently, Aref is afraid the kids in Michigan won’t understand him, won’t share his love for collecting rocks, making lists, or researching animals (especially the migratory sea turtles who always find their way back to the Omani beaches they make famous). He’s afraid of leaving behind his cat, Mish-Mish, and his friends Sulima and Diram. Most of all, he’s afraid of leaving behind his beloved grandfather, Sidi. As he struggles to get his final suitcase packed, Aref must spend his last few days in Oman figuring out what (and who) exactly ‘home’ means to him—how he can leave it behind, take it with him, and make it anew in the United States—all at once.

At its heart, Nye’s charming novel tells the story of a boy who must leave his home and start a new life elsewhere—it’s a tale of moving, of endings and new beginnings, and of appreciating the aspects of home that matter most. The narrative point of view is eminently relatable—Aref is a twelve-year old boy whose worries about moving will surely resonate with any young reader who has ever relocated or had to adapt to new surroundings. His close bond with Sidi will undoubtedly recall readers’ relationships with special people in their own lives. That said, this story is also uniquely Aref’s—a boy from Oman, a Middle Eastern country largely unknown to many in the U.S. From his everyday trips to the souk with his mother to his adventure through the far-flung desert with Sidi, the landscape and culture Aref has grown to love is decidedly Omani, and will provide an outwardly unfamiliar perspective for many American readers. Despite this, The Turtle of Oman reveals an underlying universality to the way we think about ‘home’ and speaks not only to the Arab, immigrant experience, but also to the human one.

By: Jamie Meader

Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Turtle of Oman. New York: HarperCollins. 2014. Print.

 

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546440How do dreams influences the choices we make? Why are dreams important?

Lucky Broken Girl is a young adult book by Ruth Behar follows Ruthie Mizrahi, a young Cuban immigrant, who is adjusting to life in New York City. At school, she is placed in English as a Second Language class and befriends Ramu who helps her navigate the experience of learning a language in a new country. After a tragic car accident leaves Ruthie’s body in a cast, it is her relationships with her friends, family, and art that allow her time for self-care and reflection. Ruthie devotes her recovery time to writing letters to her friend Ramu, to artist Frida Kahlo, and to God.

My favorite passage from the book is titled: “If Your Dreams Are Small They Can Get Lost”. In this passage, Ruthie reflects on the people who cared for her during her recovery and says: “Mami, I’ll never forget how you took care of me. Te quiero, Mami. I love you. I say the words in Spanish and English, so she knows how much I mean it” (Behar 202). This lyrical and rich young adult text explores themes of identity, language, and dreams. Woven throughout this piece is snippets of resilience, perseverance, and hope.

Lucky Broken Girl is a coming of age text that features a Jewish woman of color lead. This semi-autobiographical book concludes with an author’s note that describes Ruth Behar’s experiences writing the book and what the story means to her.

By Sofia

Behar, Ruth. Lucky Broken Girl. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen , 2017. Print.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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Overall Rating: 95%

Relatable? YES.
Cute? Yes!
Funny? Definitely has its moments.
Moving? I cried multiple times.
Sad? A little.

“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. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m experiencing right now” (Yoon 79).

Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star is fairly conscious of the fact that it follows an “instalove”-esque narrative, but the novel’s self-awareness makes the story a much more unique read. Exploring topics like love, destiny, immigration, and family, the novel follows protagonists Daniel and Natasha as their paths cross on an especially fateful day.

The child of Korean immigrants, Daniel is on his way to a college admission interview with a Yale alumnus when he meets Natasha, an undocumented immigrant who’s headed to meet a lawyer who may be able to stop her deportation to Jamaica. The two find themselves in each other’s company in the interim before their respective appointments, and upon discovering that Natasha places more faith in facts and science than in love or fate, Daniel sets out to prove to her that he can get her to fall in love with him scientifically in what time they have together.

Because the protagonists are aware that they’re essentially testing the idea of “instalove,” the novel refreshingly explores whether or not it’s actually possible for two people to fall in love so fast without becoming too unrealistic. The novel challenges readers to consider the difference between fate and coincidence as well as the possibility that some loves may indeed be “inevitable.”

Both Natasha and Daniel are extremely charming, well-written characters with quirks that make their respective POV (point-of-view) chapters really distinctive and enjoyable to read.

More literary-minded, Daniel often reflects on his life by creating headlines— “Area Boy Attempts to Use Science to Get the Girl” (Yoon 84), begins one of his chapters, while Natasha’s chapters often include “observable facts” indicative of her own more practical personality.

Making the story even more unique are the brief histories of minor characters and explanations of concepts like “half-life” and “multiverse” that are interspersed throughout the novel. These seeming digressions really enriched the narrative and helped illustrate, among other things, the point that even seemingly minor characters have their own stories that once revealed make them just as real as the protagonists.

Although The Sun Is Also a Star explores concepts of love and fate, the novel doesn’t shy away from discussing heavier topics like internalized racism—including much commentary on issues surrounding immigration and deportation. Particularly memorable was Natasha’s observation that “If people who were actually born here had to prove they were worthy enough to live in America, this would be a much less populated country” (Yoon 110).

Furthermore, while I cannot speak for others, as the child of immigrants, I found that the novel’s portrayal of immigrants’ experiences and attitudes was extremely authentic and relatable. Many of the sentiments expressed really rang true to me, reflecting opinions that I’ve encountered in real life. It’s clear that the author did a lot of research so that she could accurately depict such a realistic portrayal.

I highly recommend Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star. Because the novel does explore notions of love and fate, those who cannot suspend their disbelief about such ideas may find the story more difficult to enjoy, but I think the story’s balanced consideration of light and heavy topics, charming characters, and unique narrative structure will appeal to everyone.

By: Celina Sun

Yoon, Nicola. The Sun Is Also a Star. EPUB ed., Random House Children’s Books, 2016.