By Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2012
Additional formats: e-book, audio book
Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year *Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award List *New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Best Fiction for Young Adults – Nominee *Audie Award for book narration
From the outset of this epistolary novel, readers will absolutely recognize what kind of people twelve year olds Meena Joshi and River Dean Justice are. We’d call these two old souls in my family. Their friendship begins when Meena chooses River’s name from a pen pal list. Not the e-mail pen pal list, but from among the kids who want to write real letters with stamps and everything. Meena lives in New York City. She chooses River, who lives in Kentucky, because she misses the mountains of her native India, and because she likes the name River.
Meena has lots of questions for River, and he does of her, too. They quickly establish the most important rule of their pen pal friendship: they can be their true selves with one another. Honest. Real. No holding back. What unfolds is an incredibly deep and bright journey into the interior worlds of two children who are carrying some grown up burdens, participating in history, and building bridges with letters. In Kentucky, River plays basketball and lives with his mom and his grandmother, Mawmaw, an advocate for mountains, trees, and social justice. His father, a former coal miner, had to leave Kentucky to find work. In New York City, Meena is starting a new school and finding she has a talent for art and a love for theater. She misses her own grandmother, Dadi, who still lives in India. Her father, too, works away from home. Meena lives with her mother and older brother in a rent-controlled apartment owned by their neighbor and friend, Mrs. Lao. As the lives of Meena and River unfold and entwine, history does too. Barak Obama is elected President; River and Mawmaw march on the Kentucky governor’s mansion to protest mountaintop removal; and Meena’s parents progress through the citizenship naturalization process.
The easy rapport between Meena, written by Neela Vaswani, and River, written by Silas House, is so believable and joyous to read. True, River and Meena come from two different cultures and far apart places, but they are kindred spirits who agree that the cures for most any ailment of the heart can be found by gazing across the mountains, holding hands with your grandmother, or looking into the brown eyes of a good, old dog. I think it’s all too common that we adults deny the complex spiritual, political, and creative lives of children. The twelve year old girl who I was – campaigning at school for Jimmy Carter, fretting about my hairy arms, confronting prejudice within myself, and finding comfort in nature – would have devoured this book and then started reading it again. The love and openness between Meena and River as they share their hopes, their fears, and their regrets opened my heart so wide. As fine a novel as Same Sun Here is, I think it’s also a handbook of sorts. On how to be a friend. On how to start over, how to fight for our earth, and how to be a good citizen of the world. GA
Listen to an audio excerpt from Same Sun Here.