Can two strangers fall in love over the course of a day? Nicola Yoon's 2016 YA novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, aims to melt your armour until you exclaim, "Yes!"
Frankly, Yoon pulls off the miracle. The Sun Is Also a Star is the kind of book that can make your heart grow a size. A series of coincidences brings our heroes, Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) and Natasha Kinsley (Yara Shahidi), together –and an unfeeling institution might pull them apart. Natasha is set to be deported to Jamaica following day.
In terms of sheer epicness, The Sun Is Also A Star is rivalled by Yoon's own love story. Like Natasha, Yoon emigrated from Jamaica to Brooklyn with her family. She met her husband, David Yoon, in graduate school for creative writing. They both took long and winding paths to their first novels — Nicola spent two decades working as a programmer for Wall Street software firm, David worked as a graphic designer. But this year, they've been crowned YA Prom King & Queen.
Yoon's big-hearted novels about young black women have topped best-seller charts and received movie adaptations in two consecutive years — last year's Everything, Everything starred Amandla Stenberg. David's first novel, Frankly In Love, which follows a Korean-American teenage boy at a romantic crossroads, sparked a 10-house bidding war and is being adapted into a movie.
We spoke to Yoon about what parts of this cross-cultural, whirlwind love story were borrowed from her own life.
Refinery29: This is such an epic love story. Have you ever heard of something like this happening — two people falling in love over the course of a day?
Nicola Yoon: “When I met my husband, I knew right away: I really like you. I only said two words to him. It took us forever to get together after that. But I knew instantly there was something. You can find something in a short amount of time."
So is Natasha and Daniel’s love story based on you and your husband’s?
“The story’s not true at all, but some of the cultural stuff is true, as are the conversations that David and I have definitely have. We’re always talking about life and death and big philosophical things. It’s a pain in the ass, honestly, because sometimes you just want to talk about a movie. But we can't seem to help it. I’ll literally say, ‘Let's stop talking about this. Can we talk about something else?’"
But you stick to the big existential concerns?
"Seriously. It’s the problem of two writers. ‘What does this really, truly mean?’"
And two YA writers!
"Right. It’s the meaning of life. When you’re 16 or 17, that’s what you’re trying to figure out. It’s the big question. We’re old. And we’re still talking about it."
David’s family is Korean, and yours is Jamaican, just like Daniel and Natasha. How did you incorporate your backgrounds in the book?
"David and I really do go to karaoke a lot. I go to the Korean grocery store and know what I’m buying. We’ve been married for 17 years. We do this a lot. I have Korean in-laws. All that stuff. The texture of their lives is part of my life."
How do Daniel and Natasha’s immigrant experiences compare?
"Natasha feels so American. At the threat of deportation, she’s like: 'This is my home.' Daniel has more classic 'child of immigrants' experience — more like mine. Your parents want to preserve the culture inside of you even though you’re an American kid. I always think of it like this — Korea’s moved on, but his parents preserve a version of it in their heads. They're more Korean than Koreans, that’s what David always says."
From To All the Boys I Loved Before to your own adaptations, contemporary YA is breaking into the big screen. What do you think of this wave of diverse book adaptations we've been seeing?
"When Everything Everything came out, I got so many letters from black and brown girls who said they never got to see themselves in a romantic lead. I get a letter daily saying thanks for this because I never get to see this in love stories — when the Asian guy gets the girl, and he gets the hot girl. David said his entire project is to make sure he is getting hot Asian boys on screen. He’s kidding, but he’s kind of serious too."
That’s a good idea. More Henry Goldings.
"Oh my God, yeah. He needs to be in everything. We went to see a screening of Crazy Rich Asians, and we both cried. We couldn’t tell if it was good because were so emotional."
Why do you think you were so emotional?
"This is going to to sound dumb, but it’s just lots of good-looking Asian people living their lives and being awesome. You just never see it. It was a nice relief. It was great."
Your book is about a very attractive Asian guy and a very attractive black girl falling in love.
"And it’s joyous. Everything doesn’t have to be about struggle and pain. Which isn’t to say that those stories aren’t happening, but also the other stories are happening."
What's it like balancing your writing schedule with David's?
"We have dreamt about being writers together since we met in grad school 20-something years ago. We’ve always wanted this. It took us 25 years to get here. It's glorious, I’m not going to lie. We’re best friends. We like each other a lot. We get up, do the morning thing with our little girl [the couple has a daughter, Penelope]. He takes her to school, I write, he goes home, goes to his chair, he writes. We take kiss breaks and make lunch. Write for a few more hours and do office stuff. I pick my little girl up. We have the long slow slide to bath time. We do that five days a week."
How do you and David celebrate your success?
"What we'd dreamt about was being able to write full time and be with each other. We have other things we want to do, but we’re content with getting to make stuff, being with each other, and showing Penny the world. The only thing we ever want is more time with each other."
That story could melt a cynics’ heart, like your book. Is that your goal? To make people believe in love?
"I really do believe in love. I’m not kidding. But I’ve also been super lucky. I found David. He’s my boy. He’s the one I was supposed to have. We made Penny. I’m very happy. I like him a lot."
The Sun Is Also A Star will be in UK cinemas on 9th August