This is an exceptional book – funny, clever, heart-breaking, heart-soaring, and full of musings about profound questions that should inspire its young adult audience to think more deeply about the world around them.
Natasha Kingsley, 17, is an illegal Jamaican immigrant who is about to be deported – that very night, in fact. Through a series of very bizarre coincidences, she not only meets a potentially perfect mate, 17-year-old Korean-American Daniel Bae, but they fall madly, wildly in love.
This is no trite unsubstantiated case of “InstaLove” like one usually finds in young adult novels, however. Rather, it is inspired and utterly convincing, in spite of the fact that Natasha doesn’t even believe in love: she reserves her faith for science, while Daniel is a poet and a dreamer. [I love how this book upends the usual gender-associated traits.] Natasha defines a successful marriage as one involving “mutual self-interest and socioeconomic compatibility.” For Daniel, the key ingredients are “friendship, intimacy, moral compatibility, physical attraction, and the X factor.” (Natasha asks, “What’s the X factor?” “Don’t worry,” Daniel replies, “We already have it.”)
And indeed they do. He considers them “meant to be.”
But through another series of improbable events, fate intervenes. And though they feel as if they have “fit a lifetime into a day,” when the day is over, it will be time for Natasha to leave.
Discussion: This book provides a good understanding of the difficulties faced by immigrants, difficulties that are not well-enough appreciated by those lucky enough to have ample opportunities and/or lack of dangers in their countries of origins. One thinks, for example, of all the German Jews in the 1930’s who were terrified of what was going on at home, but even more scared at the prospect of abandoning their lives, their language, and the repository of their memories. As one of the characters muses:
“For most immigrants, moving to the new country is an act of faith. Even if you’ve heard stories of safety, opportunity, and prosperity, it’s still a leap to remove yourself from your own language, people, and country. Your own history. What if the stories weren’t true? What if you couldn’t adapt? What if you weren’t wanted in the new country?”
There is a lot of science and physics in this book too, but it is so well done I bet most readers don’t even realize they are being educated. There is also very humorous meta-commentary by Daniel in the form of headings to some of the chapters he narrates, and wonderful explanatory “interludes” by the narrator on all manner of topics germane to the story.
Evaluation: This story is funny, smart, wise, and endearing. There’s not a drop of magic in this book, but it is magical nevertheless. It is not the writing itself that is necessary luminous, but the characters. It’s one of the best books I read all year.
Rating: 4.5/5 (I would have given it a five, but I thought the ending – amazing as it was, could have been expanded a bit. Should have been expanded a bit. Okay, I wanted the book to keep going forever.)
Note: National Book Award finalist (Young People’s Literature, 2016)
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016