Nicola Yoon is back with another love story that will make readers swoon. Inspired by Big History, The Sun is Also a Star tells the story of two teens: Daniel, the son of Korean shop owners, and Natasha, whose family is living in New York City illegally.
During one hectic day, they cross paths amidst Daniel's interview with a Yale alum and Natasha's attempts at preventing her family's deportation to Jamaica. Despite their obstacles, they fall in love. I spoke to author Nicola about being a New York Times Bestseller, the immigrant experience, and true love:
Congratulations on becoming a #1 NYT Bestseller! Do you feel more pressure because you've reached that point?
It's not pressure to be on the list, but I do feel like a kind of different push. You can't help but see some reviews, even though I try to avoid them, so I know what people like and what they don't like. I sort of think both of those things isn't really good for you to know. It really took me a long time after Everything, Everything to get those voices out of my head. It was just a matter of time to readjust to this new normal.
Did it make writing your second book harder? I've read that writing your second book under contract is one of the most difficult times for a writer. Was that true for you?
I feel like it was true at the same time. It was true because I was still working my full time job when I started writing it, and like I said, we hear all of these voices in our head that we didn't have before. I was also traveling a lot for Everything, Everything, which made it hard in a practical way.
But on the other hand, the first book was very personal, but this was even more personal. They were both difficult, but in different ways. Writing a second book is hard, because a lot of people are paying attention now.
My family is from Jamaica, and it was really cool to see it represented in a way that wasn't completely idealistic. How long did you live on the island?
I was born in Kingston, and grew up in Montego Bay until we moved here. I was there until I was eleven, and then we moved to Brooklyn in a very Jamaican neighborhood and we traveled back and forth. I really wanted to write about the immigrant experience, you know, being trapped between two worlds and not really being part of either.
How did you decide which elements of the immigrant experience to include? Were some of the things that Natasha experienced based on your own experiences?
There's one story in the book that's mine - I had a spelling test and I spelled "favorite" with a "u" and they marked it wrong. I was so confused; I genuinely did not understand.
I went home and looked at my dictionary and saw that there was a "u" in it. Then I realized there was American English and I really did get my points back. I wanted that perfect score. I was such a nerd, I can't even tell you.
Mostly, it wasn't based [on my life.] Feeling out of place in society was for sure how I felt when I first got here. I still feel both Jamaican and American, and sometimes neither.
How much research did you have to do for Daniel's Korean heritage?
I did a ton. I spoke to my husband, who I've been with for fourteen years. And then my sister in law read it, and a cousin of my husband read it. Ellen Oh read it a few times for me. I did a lot of research for lots of reasons.
I know a lot about it because my child is half Korean and we've been together for such a long time, but there was some things that I still didn't get right. I had a scene where [Daniel] was having breakfast and Ellen said "He probably wouldn't have that." There were still things for me to learn and to know. I wanted to make sure that I didn't screw it up, from a representation standpoint, but also from a factual standpoint.
DId you go back to New York to help write some of the scenes?
I grew up in Brooklyn, but I actually did make a trip to make sure that I didn't forget some things, but also to get a feel. Google Maps is also totally your friend. I knew halfway through the book some of the settings, but I had really good memory with like the [general] feeling of stuff.
Natasha and Daniel both have sort of strained relationships with their fathers. How were you able to develop the parents as characters without completely villainizing them?
It was really important to me, even in Everything, Everything, that the kids interact with their parents because parents are such a huge influence, especially when you're a teenager. They shape you. But they are also flawed, and I know this especially now that I'm a parent.
For Natasha and Daniel, I think hopes and dreams are really a big part of the immigrant experience. I mean, why are you moving to a different country? It could be because you're fleeing something or there's an opportunity. You think it's going to be better in another country.
There are people with real hopes and dreams, and those dreams don't necessarily mesh with having a child or they have too many expectations for their child. I think it's important to see that they are people.
What made you decide to include the side stories from different people the main characters interacted with?
I really, really always wanted to do that because I feel like you just never know how you're affecting someone or how you're being affected. There are moments when you're like "If I had gotten in the car a few minutes earlier I would've missed that accident and I wouldn't have been late for this other thing."
Do you believe in true love?
I really do. I don't know, it's cheesy but I'm absolutely a romantic goober at heart. I do, do so believe in true love. It's one of those things that you just have to be open to. You have to be willing to pay attention and you have to decide to be happy.
So many people are so ball-and-chain or they sort of put down the people they love, and I hate that so much. They pretend that love isn't super important. Love is something that makes the world go round. I mean, I am not being flip about it. It's the only thing worth getting up for.
I don't just mean romantic love, but love for your parents, your kids, your friends or some passion. I do believe that there is a person out there where you both the same "matching luggage." If you're open to the world and willing to love someone with all your heart, then yes. It's there.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher's Weekly, and a National Book Award (Young People's Literature) Finalist. It is available everywhere on November 1st.