Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Corgi Children’s (PRH)
Publication date: 3 November 2016
Series or standalone?:Standalone
Source: I received a NetGalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Natasha is a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate, not destiny, not dreams that will never come true. So even when she meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and there’s something between them, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with him. Her family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica, and love is not on her list of priorities.
Daniel has always been a good son, a good student, resigned to a life shaped by his parents’ high expectations. He dreams of being a poet in secret, and he definitely believes in true love, but he’s stuck on a one-way train to pre-med and he isn’t sure if he’s brave enough to pull the brakes. When he meets Natasha, all that falls away. Something about Natasha makes him think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store – for both of them.
This book has all the ingredients guaranteed to have contemporary USYA fans a-flurry with excitement: a gorgeous cover, a magazine-friendly premise, and the prior success of a début novel already being made into a movie. But looking past all the flashing lights and blanket pre-release praise (and having learned to take hype with a more than a pinch or two of salt), does it really live up to expectation?
There’s plenty to like about the novel: its cinematic setting, a terrific mix of cultures (including some very memorable scenes involving a kind of Korean-American karaoke called norebang) and a story just interesting enough to keep you reading. Yoon has a great eye for detail and her characters’ chosen fields of idealistic poetry and sceptical science lend themselves easily to simple but sparkling pieces of prose (“sincerity is sexy, and my cynical heart notices”). If nothing else, it’s an enjoyable book. Quick, vibrant and sprinkled rather than crammed with plot – Daniel is on his way to a Yale interview which will lead to the career in medicine his parents have always pushed for, while Natasha is on a last-minute quest to prevent her family being deported back to Jamaica – The Sun Is Also A Star is told with warmth, verve and compassion.
Of course, the twelve-hour romance at the core of the book is going to raise a few eyebrows. Unlikely as it seems under such conditions, Natasha and Daniel have a talkative, engaging dynamic – and they have a lot of chemistry. They are, however, very different people; theirs is an tale of contrast, coincidences, choices, mishaps and ultimatums thrown in with perhaps just a little bit of fate.
Unfortunately, the conflict between her scientific pessimism and his melodramatic declarations of love can seem overdone. There’s no subtlety, no delicate grace. Daniel is too willing to declare he’s just met the love of his life (who says I love you on day one?!), yet the book barely questions the idea that the stridently cynical Natasha would agree to spend hours she’s already said are her last chance to stall her deportation with a boy she’s only just met.
It’s a fast read but the pacing is erratic, with chapter-sized explorations of side characters and concepts which, while sometimes adding backstory, generally do little more than disrupt the narrative. It’s often hard to like many of the characters and if you’re looking for healthy family dynamics in teen fiction you won’t find them here. The book is heavily reliant on that particular style of American YA which involves breaking paragraphs on every second line, and regularly gives up on multi-sensory description altogether. Even worse, the book’s persistent penchant for tell over show is hugely grating. It’s a pity, too, as it’s in rare moments where Yoon allows the prose to breathe that it shines.
Pacy, enjoyable and entertaining. A short, sharp second book which will undoubtedly find an audience in fans of Yoon’s début, Everything Everything. The writing style is curiously uneven and the path of its plot is a well-trodden one, but great chemistry between its leads binds the book together. When it comes to the ultimate love-at-first-sight YA novel, though, Jennifer E. Smith remains undefeated, while Sarra Manning’s gorgeous, whirlwind London Belongs To Us is hands down the victor if you’re looking for laugh-out-loud humour and feel-good storytelling.