In a time when being an immigrant is politically charged and when some people want to retreat behind walls of fear and hate, I read two excellent YA books that I highly recommend for people who prefer to explore and be open to other cultures. These aren’t happily-ever-after stories. They are bittersweet and do not flinch from spotlighting what makes any of us mistrust the “other”.
Natasha is a girl who has faith in numbers, science and facts, probably solidified in reaction to her father. His dream of becoming a famed actor has left her family in poverty. But worse, his DUI leads to the discovery they are illegal immigrants from Jamaica who must leave the US immediately.
Daniel, a poet, is Korean American. His immigrant parents demand the best grades and professions from their sons. He is supposed to be interviewed for Yale when a series of events lead him to Natasha. For him, it’s some kind of sign or destiny.
She has no time for that, but something keeps drawing them closer together. Sure, there’s physical attraction but their budding love has more to do what they discover in the heart and soul of the other.
They both know there will be no welcome for them as a couple in their families or communities, even if Natasha somehow finds a way to stop the deportation.
I listened to The Sun is Also a Star on audiobook, so I don’t have a way to quote lines, but I’ve listened to it twice now. That’s how much I love it.
WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed had me turning pages at all hours as I became more and more terrified for the protagonist, Naila, a Pakistani American.
Even though she is raised in the US and has excelled in school, her parents keep the old ways, strict and unbending. Not only is she not allowed to date, they will choose her husband. But, as things go in both stories and in real life, Naila bends the rules and sets in motion an alarming series of events.
We’ve read news stories about forced marriages and honor killings, but what the author has done is take the reader into the life of a girl suddenly confronted with those horrors, a girl who had no idea this could happen to her.
At the same time, the story finds moments of hope and love.
The copy I purchased has a discussion guide at the end. This makes it an excellent choice for schools and book clubs.
Of interest, too, is the distinction between forced marriage and arranged marriage. The author states she is happy in her arranged marriage. As well as being an author, she is a lawyer and founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.