June 16, 2023

All the Yellow Suns

By Malavika Kannan
Review by
Darker than Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler and lighter than Courtney Summers’ I’m the Girl, Malavika Kannan’s sapphic coming-of-age debut is beautifully heartbreaking.
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Sixteen-year-old Maya Krishnan, an Indian American aspiring artist, lives in Citrus Grove, Florida, a suburb of Orlando with “two sides, like a coin.” There’s the side she and her friends live on, with a diverse community of people “who have thick accents and even thicker blood.” And then there’s the side of bake sales, white picket fences and bigoted remarks about immigrants. Maya seethes about the hypocrisy around her but is unsure how else to express her frustration other than through her art.

Maya’s portfolio attracts Juneau Zale, a wealthy white senior with a rebellious spirit. Juneau sees a spark in Maya and invites her to join the Pugilists, a secret society of students who use “art, pranks [and] mischief” to shine a light on inequalities in their school, such as the overpolicing of students of color. Soon Maya’s falling for Juneau, despite the cracks appearing in Juneau’s carefully crafted facade. As tensions at school rise and pranks turn into potential crimes, Maya will have to decide how close she’s willing to fly to Juneau’s sun.

In All the Yellow Suns, debut author Malavika Kannan captures the emotional turmoil of high school, with relationships as likely to bleed into one another as the watercolors on Maya’s palette. Kannan’s dialogue is natural in a way that reflects the author’s experience as a 22-year-old student of comparative studies in race and ethnicity and creative writing at Stanford University. She crafts beautiful prose filled with eloquent metaphors such as, “When two humans wear each other down, erode until their bodies fit together like clay—that’s what love feels like. Sanding somebody’s edges and crooks. Settling into their ridges.”

The fact that All the Yellow Suns is so intensely character-driven means the plot with the Pugilists doesn’t quite pack the punch their name promises. However, Maya is such a likable, passionate narrator that readers will relish the intimate story of her coming to terms with her sexuality. The large cast of side characters is spread thin throughout the book, though each is as complex as they can be for the space they receive. Juneau’s character is the most complex of all, fascinatingly difficult to pin down: a manic pixie dream girl who has a potential white savior complex and is battling internalized homophobia.

Darker than Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler and lighter than Courtney Summers’ I’m the Girl, this sapphic contemporary coming-of-age story is intensely realistic and beautifully heartbreaking and will capture the attention of readers who are passionate about activism.

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All the Yellow Suns

All the Yellow Suns

By Malavika Kannan
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780316447324

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