2016 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature
The Sun Is Also a Star
(Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House)
National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Nicola Yoon: I wrote this book for anyone who's ever desperately searched for meaning. For everyone who asks the big questions. For all the dreamers and questioners.
Like sunlight through a prism, The Sun Is Also a Star is a singular love story told through numerous luminous voices. Skillfully examining ideas of coincidence and fate, the random connections and seemingly small moments that somehow determine our futures, this kaleidoscopic novel shifts and shimmers, unsettles and unmoors, until its brilliant and satisfying conclusion.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
About the Author
Nicola Yoon’s first novel, Everything, Everything, debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. The Sun is Also a Star is her second novel.
- TWITTER: @NicolaYoon
- TUMBLR: nicolayoon.tumblr.com
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Interview by Ibi Zoboi
The Sun Is Also a Star is a love story between two teens passing through the universe, floating on their own stars, and destined for their futures. It is also a love letter to the universe and all the stardust particles that make up wishes and dreams. I read this book with a notepad and highlighter because it was also a life manual that answers the question: how did this—a chance encounter or an unfulfilled dream—come to pass? Nicola Yoon, who starts the novel with a Carl Sagan anecdote about apple pie and starting from scratch, exquisitely demonstrates how we all play a role in this endless love affair between art and science. A Jamaican immigrant girl and a Korean-American boy are connected in the tiniest of ways—like the atoms and neutrons in Sagan’s apple pie. The ultimate result is a big bang of a love story that expands and contracts in a mere twelve hours. The Sun Is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel, and it will certainly pull at readers’ heartstring much like the omnipotent hands of the all-knowing universe.
Ibi Zoboi: You share a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book about how you and your husband first met. Your name is Nicola and you are Jamaican American, just like Natasha in your novel. Your husband's name is David and he is Korean American, just like Daniel in your novel. I couldn't help but notice the alliteration in the names. So in what ways are you and your husband's story similar to Natasha and Daniel's?
Nicola Yoon: Good catch! I guess I should say though, all evidence to the contrary, the novel is not autobiographical. My husband and I did not fall in love over the course of 12 hours in NYC under threat of deportation! The book was definitely inspired by the spirit of our relationship. We're both quite philosophical and often have long discussions about the meaning of life, the existence or non-existence of God, science vs art, etc. Natasha and Daniel love thinking and talking about big ideas though they approach the world from different perspectives.
I also drew on our cultural backgrounds to help inform the characters. Some of my favorite Korean foods make an appearance!
IZ: How difficult was it to write from the perspective of the universe? Was it simply third-person omniscient point of view, or something...greater?
NY: It was definitely challenging. In our modern world it's very easy to feel isolated and disconnected from each other. Those third-person omniscient points of view were a way for me to illustrate all the ways in which we are connected. By using a God-like perspective that knows the past and future history of each character, the threads that connect us become very clear.
IZ: The Sun Is Also a Star examines teen love through the lenses of physics and religion, or science and art. As the author, do you favor one perspective over the other?
NY: At this point in my life, I'm a proponent of both perspectives. I think looking at the world from both makes for a more complete, beautiful and accurate picture. One of my favorite Carl Sagan quotes is: "It does no harm to the romance of a sunset to know a little about it." I would go a little further and say that knowing the science of a sunset makes it even more beautiful.
IZ: One of the first things that resonated with me was the fact that Daniel's father owns a beauty supply store called Black Hair Care. Natasha lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where I currently live. So I immediately thought of the many Korean-owned businesses in my neighborhood, and the close bond between these store owners and their Caribbean patrons. Why did you choose to include this very important detail?
NY: Black hair care stores are fairly common in African American and Caribbean neighborhoods. They are also very often owned by Korean or Korean American people. The reasons why are deeply illuminating. We spend so much of modern lives thinking that we are very distant from the people around us, but it's not true at all. Once you delve into the history you discover the many threads that bind us. Part of what I wanted to explore in the book is the unexpected ways in which seemingly different groups of people are all connected.
IZ: Natasha is into science and loves nineties rock bands. How important was it for you to portray an atypical black girl with unique interests?
NY: I think what your question is getting at is the very limited portrayals of black girl experiences in mainstream media. In general, what we see is the stereotypical sassy black sidekick whose internal life is not explored in meaningful, truthful way.
Natasha is not atypical. There are many black girls who are nerdy and like rock and roll. There are many black girls who like a great many things. It was really important to me to write about a girl that we don't often see, but who exists and deserves to be seen. It was important to me to give her the starring role.
IZ: What sort of research did you do to include so many rich details about both Jamaican and Korean culture?
NY: Well I am Jamaican, as are my parents. We immigrated to America when I was eleven years old. My husband is Korean American, and his parents are Korean immigrants. So, in many ways I drew from my own life experience. I also enlisted the help of a number of beta readers to read through the manuscript while focusing on the Korean cultural content. It was extremely important to me to make sure that I was respectful of Korean and Korean American culture. I wanted to make sure that I didn't engage in harmful and stereotypical representation. I also wanted to make sure that got practical details right—the correct names of foods, what kind of dishes are eaten when, etc.
IZ: I found it very fascinating that both Natasha and Daniel each have a parent who is or was an artist. What are your thoughts on the immigrant artist?
NY: Great question! In my experience immigrants tend to have a unique view of their new countries. They are simultaneously a part of it and not a part of it. It gives them outsider's and an insider's perspective that can make for breathtakingly clear-eyed art.
IZ: Three very distinct cultural details are highlighted in this book: hair, food, and music. What is it that you are attempting to say about how Natasha and Daniel are grappling with these to better understand themselves and each other?
NY: Like all teenagers, Natasha and Daniel are trying to figure out who they are and their place in the world. Part of the journey to self knowledge is deciding how you want to present yourself to the world. It's also deciding who your tribe is in terms of the kind of music you like, the books you read, the things you wear, the foods you eat. Natasha and Daniel also have the added layer of the immigrant experience. In many ways they have a foot in both cultures. They're trying to find a way to navigate both gracefully.
IZ: Can you share anything with us about forthcoming projects?
NY: I wish I could, but I can't! I will say that I am having a great time writing and there'll be more news soon-ish!
Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing has been published in Haiti Noir, the Caribbean Writer, The New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book Magazine, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut YA novel American Street (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins) is due out in February 2017.