YA contemporary fiction and Broadway soundtracks may not be as classic or sophisticated a combination as, say, wine and cheese, but I’d argue the pairing is at least as natural as popcorn and a chocolate milkshake. Totally different menu items that you wouldn’t want to take a mouthful of at the same time, but are nevertheless delicious when paired properly.
If you read and enjoyed the second novel from Nicola Yoon (author of Everything, Everything), The Sun Is Also a Star, I’d like to recommend following it up with a sweet, sincere off-Broadway cast recording: Ordinary Days.
We’re only halfway through the year and I already know The Sun Is Also a Star is going to make my list of favorite books I read in 2018. My full review focused mainly on the book’s handling of race and use of perspective. Something I didn’t have the time to get into, however, is the book’s use of the “day in NYC” trope.
Except for an epilogue set years later, The Sun Is Also a Star takes place over the course of a single day. While a couple flashbacks take the reader elsewhere, the main action takes place entirely in New York City as the main characters bounce from Manhattan offices to Harlem storefronts to Brooklyn apartments. The narration takes short detours into the thoughts and histories of peripheral histories, painting a city of diverse but interconnected lives moving quickly, sometimes tragically, around the protagonists.
I am very wary of ~New York Story~ stories. I very quickly of all the ohhh greatest city in the world – a thousand stories – the city is in my blood – real new Yorker of it all. But I love The Sun Is Also a Star, and I love Ordinary Days.
With music by Adam Gwon, Ordinary Days (not to be confused with the unrelated 2017 film by the same name) is a pretty quick listen. There are only four characters, so it’s easy to follow the basic story without having seen the show. It’s a charming and, at times, hilarious hour-fifteen of bright, piano-accompanied music, perfect for just letting run during a long car trip or laundry day.
IMPORTANT: Act II comes at you with a major tearjerker in the form of one of my personal favorite Broadway solos, “I’ll Be Here.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I love to recommend this album to friends who are new to listing to cast recordings as entertainment on their own. If you’re anything like me, you’ll identify painfully with Deb, a high-strung grad student first seen singing an email to her advisor begging an extension on her thesis. She figures in one of my favorites on the album, “Big Picture:”
Like The Sun, Ordinary Days has fun letting the seemingly disparate stories of the two pairs connect and intersect at unexpected moments. It celebrates the bustle and diversity of New York without getting, frankly, all stuck-up about it. The musical perfectly captures Daniel’s sweet sincerity and Natasha’s begrudging affection for it. The Sun Is Also a Star gets a lot of (well-deserved) attention for its nuanced and empathetic treatment of race, so I should note that this isn’t the musical you’re looking for if you want something that digs into racism or racial politics. Ordinary Days is, however, a joy to listen to that sprang immediately to my mind when I read Nicola Yoon’s beautiful book.