"The Sun Is Also a Star" Book Discussion and Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes Recipe
Natasha is a Jamaican American teen, living illegally in NYC with her small family in a one-bedroom apartment since she was a child. And she is about to be deported back to a country where she won't belong, with her American ways, accent, and scientific career aspirations.
Daniel is a Korean American teen also in NYC. But not only is he legal, his older brother is at Harvard, and his family has achieved more success. Both boys are on track to be doctors, regardless of what they may want. Daniel's only tolerable change to the plan is going to Yale instead of Harvard. On his way to the interview, with a suit, a red tie, and some time to kill thanks to an odd proclamation by a train conductor, Daniel Jae Ho Bae decides to "blow in the direction of the wind. Pretend my future's wide open, and that anything can happen." And this on this one day of destiny, it does.
Daniel sees a girl with pink headphones who stops in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to lose herself in the music, and he follows her into a record-shop, where her ex-boyfriend and another girl will steal a record, prompting him to speak to her, and begin an incredible journey towards love and self-awareness, as if fate itself had intervened.
With hints of insight into the backgrounds of each teen's parents, things like time paradoxes, irie, multiverses, and even seemingly lesser characters like a train conductor and a female security guard, you can see how everything really Does happen for a reason, as Natasha's father says. is filled with the maxims of a perceptive adult, through the eyes and wit of a teen. It will leave you craving Korean food, karaoke, and to sit comfortably answering deep life questions with someone you love. The Sun is Also a Star
Perfect for Fans of
- Everything Everything
- The Fault in our Stars
- Five Feet Apart
- Teen drama
- Romantic drama
- Teens searching for meaning
- Stories about destiny or fate
- Stories about immigrants, race, and class differences in America
- NYC fiction
Why did Irene, the security guard, delay people long enough to look up and meet her eyes? How was she responsible, therefore, for Natasha and Daniel meeting? How did Natasha save her?
How is moving to a new country an act of faith for most immigrants? Contrast the experience and success of Natasha’s family versus Daniel’s.
“In Korea, the family name came first and told the entire history of your ancestry. In America, the family name is called the last name.” According to Dae Hyun (Daniel’s father), how did this show what was more important to Americans? What other cultures place larger importance on family and long, inclusive family names?
What was some of the background and significance of the word “irie”? How did it start off meaning one thing and end up meaning another, especially for tourists, or even her father?
Research question: Natasha didn’t like the way that words changed meanings, and wished that they weren’t allowed to. She wondered who decides that the meaning has changed, and when, and if there was an in-between time when the word meant both. A commonly known American slang example are the words “cool” and “bad.” Do you know any other examples? (Hint: look up awful versus awe-full).
Natasha’s father thinks she is a cynic. She thinks she is a realist, and her father is a hopeless, foolish dreamer. Natasha believes, at the beginning “It’s better to see life as it is, not as you wish it to be. Things don’t happen for a reason.” How is she sort of on one end of the spectrum, her father on the opposite, and Daniel somewhere in the middle? Do you think the Natasha at the end of the book believes a little differently? What can be the dangers of living at either extreme for long?
How did a train conductor’s instructions to “get out of here. You will find God if you look for him” impact Daniel’s entire day, and life?
What song/artist was Natasha listening to that “was so amazing to cause her to lose herself right there in the middle of the sidewalk in New York City”? Is there a song that does that to you as well? Do you think Daniel might have one too? What play did Natasha’s father get lost in?
Why were Natasha’s headphones her favorite gift from her father? What secrets and changes in her did they know about?
What is the grandfather paradox of time travel? How does the tv series Dr. Who (if you watch it) navigate around this principle? Do you think Natasha would like the show? Based on what you know about the grandfather paradox, if you had a time machine, what would you do with it?
For Natasha (at the beginning of the book), the basic ingredients for love are “mutual self-interest and socioeconomic compatibility.” For Daniel, they are “friendship, intimacy, moral compatibility, physical attraction, and the X factor.” What do you think he meant by the last one? Why are their views so different? Are there any you would add or remove?
Activity: share answers with the group to any of the questions Natasha and Daniel asked each other (pg 85-86, hardcover edition).
How is it ironic that when asked about fame she would want, Natasha wanted to be a benevolent dictator who “would decide what was good for everyone and do it” when in a way, this is what some people essentially believe about God, yet she didn’t believe in the existence of one?
At Daniel’s parent’s store, how was it “not hair dye being sold in these bottles, it’s happiness”? Is this at the core of all consumerism and marketing motivation—buy this and you’ll be happy(ier)? Is it ever true?
Why did Daniel tell Natasha “It’s not up to you to help other people fit you into a box”? What boxes did people try to shove each of them into and why?
Why do Daniel and Natasha’s mom and other believe in Fate, when we no longer believe in the other two of the three sisters from Greek mythology?
Daniel’s parents believed that what he wanted didn’t matter. “The only thing that matters is what is good for you.” Why did each of them believe so differently? How could each of them potentially turn out wrong? What are some good compromises or a good way to strike a balance between achieving a dream that makes no money (like Natasha’s father) and a skill that could make lots of money (to pay for necessities in life)?
Why did Charlie treat Daniel the way he did?
Who existed in Daniel and Natasha’s lives to make them better? To make them worse?
Who did Daniel want to invite to dinner? How did Daniel describe him to help Natasha understand, in terms of connections and the good parts of people and the world?
Why were both Natasha and Daniel’s favorite memories about people they now, as teens, liked least?
How did you like the surprise ending of the book?
Daniel tried to spice up the day of the baristas at the coffee shop he went to with Natasha by “ordering an overly elaborate drink involving half shots, milks of varying fat content...as well as vanilla syrup.”
Natasha’s most treasured memory is eating chocolate ice cream out of an ice cream cone for the first time when she was four.
To combine and commemorate both memories, I created a recipe for a chocolate cupcake that is baked inside an ice cream cone, topped with vanilla frosting. You can also crumble ice cream cone crumbs on top of a regular cupcake, if you prefer not to bake it in one.
Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting
For the cupcakes:
- 12 ice cream cones, flat-bottomed, plus more for sprinkling on top, if desired
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) hot, strong fresh coffee
For the frosting:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp heavy cream or half and half
Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting
Popover pan needed to bake the cupcakes in cones
- Preheat your oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, use the paddle attachment to combine the granulated sugar and oil for two minutes. While those are mixing, in another smaller bowl stir together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.
- To the oil/sugar mixture, add the sour cream and vanilla and mix for one minute. Drop the speed to medium-low speed and add the eggs, one at a time. When those are combined, drop the speed of the mixer to the lowest speed and add one-third to half the flour mixture. Allow to combine, then add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. It should look gloopy and thick. Stop the mixer and pour in all of the hot coffee, very slowly. Scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to medium-low and mix about 2 minutes, until the batter is suddenly glossy and the coffee/cocoa smell comes pouring out.
- Place ice cream cones in a popover pan. Fill each cone about 2/3 full with cake batter (see photo). Place a baking sheet under the popover pan or muffin tin and bake about 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean of raw batter. Remove from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes on a wire rack or counter with a trivet. Makes about 12-14 cupcakes. (If you have extra batter and not enough cones, you can just put the batter into a paper-lined cupcake tray, or spray with nonstick spray only as many cups as you need (should be 1-2) and fill 2/3 with batter, then bake.
- For the frosting: whip 1 stick (one-half cup) room temperature salted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment on medium speed for about a minute. Add the vanilla extract, half of the powdered sugar and drop the speed to low. Mix for about 20 seconds, then add the heavy cream (or half and half), and alternate with rest of the powdered sugar. Stop the mixer to scrape the insides of the bowl if need, remove all the powdered sugar from the sides. When the powdered sugar disappears, increase the speed to medium-high and mix until combined. Frost onto cooled cupcakes. I used an XL star tip.
Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting
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Another book by Nicola Yoon is the novel , another romantic teen drama about a girl with a famous disease who can’t leave her house, and a boy who shows up at her door. Also the author wrote a short story, The Man in the Moon. She also co-wrote other works of short stories—Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet, Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, Fresh Ink: An Anthology. Everything, Everything
Poems, poets, authors, and books mentioned within this one are Carl Sagan, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot, "Hope" by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick, A Raisin in the Sun, Macbeth, and David Copperfield.
Five Feet Apart is also about two teens who feel destined for love, thrown together by fate, but tragedy and a physical complication keep them apart. One of them is also devil-may-care, and the other sees meaning and purpose in ritual and rules.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is another such novel, as well as a bestseller, about two teens with cancer who fall in love and have long discussions about the meaning of life and what things are most important to us.
Two books that begin with a daughter adoring her father, and the second book ends with her coming to terms with who else he might be as she’s a little older are the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird and its sequel, Go Set a Watchman.
Another book about a teen looking for meaning in life and death in NYC is The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore.
Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, and the concepts of fate, the Purpose, and the Random all play a large role in Stephen King’s (less frightening) Insomnia.
“Names are powerful things. They act as an identity marker and a kind of map, locating you in time and geography. More than that, they can be a compass.”
“Secretly, in their hearts, almost everyone believes that there’s some meaning, some willfulness to life. Fairness. Basic decency...No one wants to believe that life is random.”
“Human beings are not reasonable creatures. Instead of being ruled by logic, we are ruled by emotions.”
“There’s a pure kind of joy in the certainty of belief. The certainty that your life has purpose and meaning. That, though your earthly life may be hard, there’s a better place in your future, and God has a plan to get you there. That all the things that have happened to him, even the bad, have happened for a reason.”
“I have a strange and happy feeling I can’t describe. It’s like knowing all the words to a song but still finding them beautiful and surprising.”
“We are capable of big lives. A big history. Why settle?...We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.”
“Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself. I like who I am with her.”
“It’s not up to you to help other people fit you into a box.”
“Sometimes your world shakes so hard, it’s difficult to imagine that everyone else isn’t feeling it too.”
“Some people exist in your life to make it better. Some people exist to make it worse.”
“I think all the good parts of us are connected on some level...God is the connection of the very best parts of us.”
“The highest thing you can do is the thing God put you on this earth to do.”
“Meeting your obligations is the definition of adulthood, kid. If you’re going to make mistakes and break promises, now’s the time.”
© 2019 Amanda Leitch