Nicola Yoon’s 2016 best-selling novel The Sun is Also A Star has been adapted for the big screen. Its themes feel more relevant than ever, writes Jennifer McShane.
Teens Daniel, a Korean-American and Jamaican-born Natasha meet and fall in love in New York City, just as her family are set to be deported less than 24-hours later. But, like all great stories, love still blossoms even amidst unimaginable circumstances. She’s a self-confessed science geek and he’s a romantic - a dreamer convinced he can win her sceptical heart before the day is out.
Three years after the book’s release, Yoon agrees the current political climate gives the book a fresh sort of relevance, but says its universal themes of dealing with immigration, deportation fate and cultural identity still hold strong. “If I was writing it again in 2019, I might have been more conscious of the politics of it but at the time, I just wanted the two of them and a day in New York.”
And speaking of the role reversal of the two main leads, played in the film by Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton, she says she was happy to switch expectations. “I know a lot of girls who are like me,” says Yoon, who majored in electrical engineering. “In YA, we don’t normally see a lot of girls who are into science and math and aren’t so hooked on love (at least, initially!) and I wanted to go against type, because I think we’ve seen it the other way.”
The initial spark for the story, she says came from thinking how everything is connected, even in lives which move at such a frantic pace. “I wanted to explore that ripple effect; everything that pushed Natasha and Daniel together and say, look, you are connected to that stranger in the street whether you realise it or not. If you’re open to the world, that is what fate is.”
There are, she says a lot of cultural touchstones in the book from her own life; Yoon is Jamaican-born American and her husband is Korean-American and she describes some other similarities in her characters. “Myself and my husband are really incapable of having casual conversations,” laughs Yoon. “So there’s a lot of that in the book. And I have my own perspective feeling in-between worlds whereas my husband was born in America so all that comes from a true place.”
The story told over differing mediums has it’s own rhythm and pace, depending on whether you’re reading or watching it on screen but Yoon is thrilled that the heart of the book was captured in the movie. “The spirit of it is there, which is wonderful."
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And what a spirit it is; full of heart, chance encounters with a few unexpected surprises added in.
Yoon’s standout moment? “The karaoke scene was always a favourite - in the book and on screen. Natasha is a terrible singer - just as I’m a terrible singer - and it’s so well done on film.”
The Sun is Also A Star is in Irish cinemas now
Main photograph: @THR