Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016: Kids' Maximum Shelf: The Sun Is Also a Star

Delacorte Press: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Sourcebooks Landmark: Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Delacorte Press: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Delacorte Press: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also a Star

by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star is a love story that feels timeless in its cosmic examination of what makes the human heart beat faster (think Keats) and yet is decidedly modern (think IKEA references, and the word "ass" used as an adjective).

The novel--named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People's Literature--largely unfolds in the alternating first-person voices of two star-crossed lovers in New York City in the 12 hours following the moment they first meet. Seventeen-year-old high school senior Natasha Kingsley is a Jamaican-born black girl and "science geek" who lives in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn with her parents and younger brother. Daniel Bae, also 17, is the son of Korean immigrants who own a black hair care store in Harlem, a poet, and younger brother to the handsome, smug and bullying Charlie.

There are more than two sides to this story. Yoon (Everything, Everything) deepens her narrative with interruptions from an omniscient narrator who not only discusses multiverses, fate and the Jamaican word "irie," but also weighs in on everyone from a desperately lonely security guard named Irene (who disapproves of the swimming baby image on Natasha's Nirvana phone case) to Daniel's brother: "Daniel is right about Charles.... Some people grow out of their lesser natures, but Charles will not." This chorus of perspectives allows a compassionate, nuanced look at the cast of characters and their motivations. Compassion isn't always easy to muster. Natasha's father, for instance, said he regretted ever getting married and having a family. Back in Jamaica, Samuel Kingsley dreamed of finding fame and fortune as an actor in a Broadway musical, so he left his wife and daughter to do it... but didn't succeed. Two years later, his wife insisted on reuniting with him in America, came with Natasha on a tourist visa and stayed. Nine years later, he got drunk one night ("the night that ruined our lives"), crashed into a police car and told the officer that his family was in New York illegally. He was arrested, and the deportation date was set.

The very day that Natasha is scheduled to be deported, the desperate day she heads to a Manhattan immigration office to see if she can find some way to keep her family in America, is the day she crosses paths with Daniel Bae. Daniel--who has "poem-writing tendencies" but whose parents want him to go to Yale and be a doctor--is in the city wearing a suit and tie for a college admissions interview. He's sitting outside a church when he sees Natasha across the street with her "enormous, curly Afro and almost-as-enormous pink headphones." Could it be pure coincidence that the conductor on the 7 train was talking about God and here this music-absorbed, blissed-out girl is wearing a DEUS EX MACHINA jacket and walking into a record store called Second Coming Records? "I know now: it's definitely a Sign... I want to know where it leads," proclaims Daniel, following her into the store. Natasha and Daniel witness a theft, witty repartee ensues and sparks fly; that there's something between them--"something big"--is undeniable.

Daniel dives in heart-first, but Natasha must resist: "For one thing, I don't like temporary, nonprovable things, and romantic love is both temporary and nonprovable." Natasha knows too well what happens to dreamers like her father, so she has put all her faith in science, and is entertainingly rigid about it: "I wonder if she realizes how passionate she is about not being passionate," Daniel notes. He's clever enough to try to convince Natasha to love him "scientifically," even citing that actual New York Times article about how two people can fall in love by asking each other 36 personal questions, then staring into each other's eyes for four minutes. "Using science against me is smart," thinks Natasha, who likes this fine, funny, earnest boy way too much for a girl who's about to leave America forever.

Yoon chronicles the whirlwind romance and its myriad contexts--New York City, the world, the very universe--with great skill. The two teenagers have chemistry like "[a] lit match and dry wood." They flirt and spar, and even survive a full-on catastrophe when Daniel brings Natasha to his family's Black Hair Salon where her father sees her afro and says, "Hair too big," and Daniel's leering, jeering brother, Charlie, is even more of an "epic douche bag" than usual. As the day progresses, Natasha starts to budge on her theory that "love is just chemicals and coincidence," but what does it matter? Hour by hour, they are running out of time before Natasha's deportation, and Daniel doesn't even know it.

The Sun Is Also a Star is an exhilarating, hopeful novel about identity, fate, family, love, science, the love of science and the science of love, dark matter, God, life and much more, all meticulously interwoven in Yoon's surprisingly seamless narrative. It's about seeing and being seen, interconnectedness and the possibility of love... and it shines. --Karin Snelson

Delacorte Press, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 13-up, 9780553496680, November 1, 2016

Delacorte Press: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon: Love, American-Style

photo: Sonya Sones

Nicola Yoon is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling young adult novel Everything, Everything; her second novel, The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press, November 1), is a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Yoon grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn. She now resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter. Here, she answers some questions for Shelf Awareness about her real-life romance with her husband; her admiration for Carl Sagan; and the ever-inspiring New York City, the vividly wrought setting of The Sun Is Also a Star.

Congratulations on being one of five finalists for the National Book Award for The Sun Is Also a Star. How and when did you hear the news?

Thank you so much! I'm still over the moon about it. When I found out, I was alone in an airport Starbucks getting ready to fly to a warehouse signing in Maryland. Lisa Lucas, the director of the National Book Foundation, called to give me the news. As soon as she said, "This is Lisa Lucas," I just started crying. I got a lot of pitying looks from the other customers.

The Sun Is Also a Star is not only an irresistible love story, it's a story about the nature of love. Daniel likes the Japanese phrase "koi no yokan," which he defines as "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." The distinction between the notion of "love at first sight" and "koi no yokan" is interesting. Do you find both scenarios equally romantic?

I do find both ideas very romantic. I like the idea that some part of you knows and recognizes the other person before your more logical and rational parts have a chance to catch up.

The romantic leads in The Sun Is Also a Star are Natasha, a 17-year-old Jamaican American, and Daniel, a 17-year-old Korean American. How did you decide on those backgrounds for your characters? Was any of their story based on your own?

I'm originally from Jamaica and my husband is Korean American, so I might have had a little help in choosing the backgrounds. But the story is not really autobiographical. I will say that some of the conversations that Daniel and Natasha have--especially the ones about love and the meaning of life--I've definitely had with my husband!

Was it love at first--or second--sight with him? How did you two meet?

With my husband it was more "koi no yokan." I met him in graduate school when we had our first creative writing class together. I thought he was supercute. There was just something about him that made me feel elated and grounded at the same time. Alas, he had a girlfriend and I was just getting out of a relationship, so I ignored my instincts. We were good friends for two years before we finally got our acts together and started dating. 

One of my favorite aspects of the novel is how poetic Daniel uses science to woo geeky Natasha, who doesn't like "temporary, nonprovable things" like love.

Yes, I think that we all tend to think of these things as separate--science vs. the arts. I don't think about them that way. Both science and art are trying to find the truth about the world, but they approach it in different ways.

What role has writing played in your life?

Writing has been important to me since I was a kid, but I didn't start doing it in any serious way until my senior year of college. I was an electrical engineering major and needed an elective outside of engineering, so I chose a creative writing class. I wrote terrible (VERY TERRIBLE) poetry about unrequited love, but I got hooked on writing. After college I worked for a few years and then went to graduate school to study writing. 

Tell us about the title The Sun Is Also a Star.

I am a huge Carl Sagan fan, and I actually got a chance to see him lecture when I was in college. One of the things I really admired about him was his belief that the scientific could also be beautiful. So when I was trying to think of a title for the book, I went searching for Carl Sagan quotes. I found one where he's lamenting the fact that some of his undergraduate students didn't know that the sun is a star, and I knew I had my title.

Do you think The Sun will melt the hearts of cynics?


The duo's entire romance unfolds in 12 hours in New York City. Tell us about your relationship with New York and how that helped shape The Sun.

I moved to New York City from Jamaica when I was 11 years old. We lived in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Before we moved to the States, my only impression of America was the two trips to Disney World that I'd taken with my family. I thought Brooklyn was going to be exactly like Disney World. It was not. I did eventually learn to love New York.

Natasha is an undocumented immigrant, about to be deported to Jamaica, and her desperation to find a way to stay in America is palpable. Both Natasha's and Daniel's immigrant family stories are nuanced and compassionately told.

I am an immigrant and my husband's side of the family are immigrants, too. I drew a lot from my own experiences, as well as theirs. Immigrants have the same hopes and dreams that people who are born in America do. To immigrate to another country is an extraordinary act of hope and bravery.

The narrative alternates between Daniel's voice and Natasha's voice in very short chapters. Was it difficult to keep their voices distinct, or did that come naturally?

The voices came very naturally. I basically channeled my scientific, engineering-major side for Natasha and my bookish, novel-writing side for Daniel.

I loved the interruptions of the omniscient narrator who projects into a character's future, provides the backstory of Natasha's troubled actor father, and discusses the history of African American hairstyles or the "half-life" of love. Was that a structure that evolved, or did you start writing the novel that way?

I had the structure from the very beginning. There's an educational movement called the Big History Project, started by a teacher and academic named David Christian. The idea is that you can't teach subjects in isolation. Astronomy influences religious studies, which influences poetry, and so on. In the book I wanted to explore the ways that we are connected to and influence each other, even if we don't know we're doing it.

Was your writing process different with Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star?

My writing process was the same for both novels. I write longhand into Moleskine notebooks. My first session is from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., and then from 9 a.m. to noon.

Tell us about how the Everything, Everything movie came about. Were you involved in writing the screenplay?

MGM optioned the book just before it was published in September 2015. Since then it's been a whirlwind! J. Mills Goodloe wrote a wonderful script, and Stella Meghie signed on to direct. After that, Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson signed on to star, and then suddenly we were making a movie! I was not involved in writing the screenplay, but I did have conversations with the writer as he was working and gave notes. The entire movie team has been really inclusive and supportive.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on. Let your freak flag fly. Writing is a muscle, and like all muscles, it gets stronger with exercise. --Karin Snelson

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