My memory is a little fuzzy as to why I picked this up – but I am a sucker for a good teen romance, and this adds to my #OwnVoices goals as well.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Read by Bahni Turpin and Raymond Lee with Dominic Hoffman. Listening Library, 2016.
17-year-old Natasha is about to be deported to Jamaica due to a stupid mistake her father made. She’s fighting as hard as she can, visiting the INS daily and hoping desperately that her plans attend college in the US will work out.
Daniel, a first-generation Korean-American, is kind of numbly going along with his parents’ plan for him to go to Yale, which they call “second best school.” A series of events including a cult-crazed train driver end with him seeing Natasha, her Afro lit up like a halo, looking like a message from God. He knows it’s crazy, but he falls for her instantly.
Natasha, on the other hand, is a scientist. She’s pretty dubious on romantic love as anything but brain chemistry, and she certainly doesn’t believe that Daniel can have developed real feelings for her so quickly. Daniel, though, is able to recall a study that produced romantic feelings in people. What with the out-of-reality nature of the day for both of them, he’s able to convince her to try and see if he can make her fall in love…
In between alternating points of view of the two characters (narrated by Bahni Turpin and Raymond Lee) a narrator who sounds like an older white man gives background information on things that come up in the story, like the politics of Black hair or the changing meaning of Jamaican slang words.
Normally I don’t like insta-love and I don’t like tragic, and this story could have been both. The romance angle worked for me, though, in part because both teens recognized how improbable it was, and in part because Daniel is initially attracted to Natasha not by her amazing figure or some such, but by the words on her jacket and how clearly passionate she is about the music she’s listening to. The ending, too, stays hopeful, with a message that a relationship can be transformative even if it can’t be permanent. In between was a compelling look at two appealing characters, with thoughts on how children are affected by their parents choices.
This pairs obviously with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Bahni Turpin seems to be the go-to narrator for African-American girl characters. I’ve also enjoyed her work on The Mighty Miss Malone and The True Meaning of Smekday, and am currently listening to The Hate U Give, also narrated by her.