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.

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.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

What do you have to do to be a player in your own story?

That is the question for Matilda “Mattie” Monaghan, whose lack of presence means not being invited to the biggest Halloween party in her town. When she sneaks in to catch a glimpse of her crush Elijah, she instead finds herself talking to the funny and intriguing (and British!) Gemma Braithwaite. The problem? Gemma is very much a part of one clique, while Mattie is in the other. Things only get more complicated when Mattie takes on the role of Romeo opposite Gemma’s Juliet in the school’s eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet. Through the play and her role as Romeo, Mattie learns about crossing seemingly impossible social lines while taking control of her life and choices.

Star-Crossed is one of many modern takes on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and yet it feels fresh. The appeal of Romeo and Juliet lies in the forbidden nature of the romance, a feeling which is captured perfectly by reframing the story around two young girls who develop a crush on each other. This book is perfect for tween and younger YA readers, however older readers can also find things to relate to in Mattie’s narrative. Despite being directed at a younger audience, Barbara Dee doesn’t make Mattie’s world simplified or perfect. Mattie’s big sister Cara and mother argue and fight every time Cara visits from college. Her friend Tessa is the daughter of divorced parents, although it’s only mentioned tangentially. The struggles Mattie faces with trying to decide how much to reveal to her friends about her growing crush on Gemma doesn’t come across as childish or unrealistic — it feels like real fear of knowing that people may and will treat her differently if they knew she liked girls. In one scene she witnesses her classmates commenting how weird it is for girls to be playing male roles in Romeo and Juliet. Although her English teacher, Mr. Torres, makes it clear he won’t tolerate any prejudice, Mattie is still very clearly surrounded by peers who may not be entirely supportive of LGBT individuals.

However, Star-Crossed is a love story at its core, and one that’s executed with a good balance of reality and fantasy. As a woman who discovered her sexuality at a young age, I appreciate Star-Crossed for normalizing affection between same-sex tweens. Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma unfold very naturally, from realizing Elijah isn’t her true love like she thought to noticing how Gemma smiles at her. A scene where she leaves Gemma an anonymous love note of Romeo’s lines is particularly sweet and poignant, while the ensuing confusion over who wrote the note keeps the momentum going through the book. While I won’t spoil the ending, I think the resolution of their feelings toward each other is perfect and powerful, showing Mattie that her feelings are valid and allowable. Throughout Star-Crossed, Mattie struggles with making decisions and going after what she wants. By the end of the book, she learns that taking action and embracing who she is rather than sitting in the background allows her to be a happier, fuller person.

By Mary

Dee, Barbara. Star-crossed. New York: Aladdin, 2017. Print.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

Which is more important—survival or family? This is a question the protagonist of On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis struggles with throughout the 456-page thriller. Denise is an autistic, biracial teen living in the Netherlands in the year 2035 with her drug-addicted mother and transgender sister, Iris. The novel begins on a suspenseful note: “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034” (Duyvis, 1). A comet is scheduled to hit Earth, destroying everything and making the planet near uninhabitable. The novel follows before, during, and after the comet hits through Denise’s eyes as she struggles to earn a place on a generation ship (the only way off the planet and the path to ensured survival) for her family. As the book’s jacket asks: “When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?” (Duyvis).

While the text will undoubtedly appeal to any fan of sci-fi, it goes far beyond the typical and delves into the complexities of each character, making it far more realistic than most young adult literature I’ve read. What I found most memorable were these portrayals; Duyvis allows her characters to have real issues to grapple with, but doesn’t define them with only one trait. Iris is transgender, yes, and the novel discusses this. However, it also deals with the choices she feels she must make in order to retain her humanity, despite putting herself in danger.

But it is Denise, the narrator, who really makes the novel special. She’s determined, powerful, smart—everything most protagonists in science fiction are. Yet she’s also biracial and autistic—two characteristics that aren’t usually given to a protagonist, especially in science fiction, where white, neurotypical characters dominate. On the Edge of Gone is not only a thrilling read: It’s an important one, one that proves that we should avoid falling back on stereotypes and shouldn’t other those who are different. Duyvis threads this idea throughout: Denise comments that “people have certain expectations of girls who look like I do—confidence and extroversion and sass—and that’s not me” (Duyvis, 123). Duyvis also deals with the intersection of Denise’s identities as half-black and autistic: “At the time, I thought the diagnosis [of autism] was delayed because I was bad at being autistic…; it took me years to realize that since I wasn’t only Black, but a Black girl, it’s like the DSM shrank to a handful of options [she was previously labeled as bipolar, psychotic, intellectually disabled, and having oppositional defiant disorder]” (Duyvis, 210). In one scene, Denise makes a joke, and her companion is surprised; aren’t all autistic people literal? No, Denise proves.

On the Edge of Gone is a brilliant entry-point to learning more about autism, racial stereotypes, transgender individuals, and drug addiction. Anyone who has ever been ostracized for a part of them that is either impossible or very difficult to change will be able to relate. Prepare to have your views challenged and question your assumptions. That’s how you know On the Edge of Gone has made an impact on you.

On the Edge of Gone may at first appear to be a long novel, but it reads very quickly, with many twists. My favorite part? Unlike many books, which will answer the beginning question that I asked (“Which is more important—survival or family?”) definitively, Duyvis proves that no issue is that simple. Denise doesn’t always make the choices we expect of her; she isn’t all about the noble, self-sacrificing option. She’s about weighing the pros and cons, seeing what she herself needs as well as how she can help others. And that’s what makes her far more relatable than most heroines—and On the Edge of Gone a far more enjoyable and though-provoking read than most other young adult literature.

By: Grace Layer

Duyvis, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 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.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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What would you do if you woke up one morning and everything was different? After a terrible accident that leaves fifteen year-old Cadence Sinclair Eastman with crippling migraines and no memory of the events of that summer, she struggles to get her life back to “normal”. Cady reflects, “I used to be blond, but now my hair is black. I used to be strong, but now I am weak. I used to be pretty, but now I look sick”(Lockhart, p. 4). Two years after the accident, seventeen year-old Cady returns to her family’s summer home. She is determined to piece together her fragmented memories of the accident, rid herself of the excessive materiality eating away at her “perfect” family, and regain the spark in her relationship with her (maybe) boyfriend. As memories slowly return and the truth of her accident is revealed, however, Cady realizes that she will never get her old life back. She must learn to live with a new “normal”.

Mental illness/injury, family conflicts and questions of belonging, love, and loss are just a few of the central themes that adolescent readers may connect with on a personal level. The text itself mirrors Cady’s own development and self-discovery, through a process of revelation and movement backward and forward in time. A powerful novel that blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality and ends with a heart-wrenching twist, We Were Liars will keep suspense-loving adolescent readers eager to turn the page.

Source Cited:

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. New York: Delacorte, 2014. Print.