by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
297 pages of letters telling the story of deepening friendship that middle school readers will enjoy and think about – the world is an amazing place
Each year I share the poem Books to the Ceiling by Arnold Lobel with kids in my class. I adapt it a bit at the end to say “I’ll have snow white hair by the time I read them” rather than a long beard. That poem is certainly true for me right now. I have books everywhere waiting to be read. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the titles I want to tell you about and all the rest patiently waiting their turn to be opened.
It took me a year to get to Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. This book begs to be read aloud and in two voices if you can. The story is told through the pen pal letters written by River Dean Justice from coal country in Kentucky and Meena Joshi, living in New York City’s Chinatown. They share everything in their letters – they share their quirks and weirdnesses with each other because through these letters they feel they can let the true selves show.
People who don’t know River might assume he is an uneducated hillbilly. He tells Meena that’s what a lot of people think. Big shot businessmen are buying up all the land so they can remove the top of the mountain and take out all the coal. They think that money can buy everything and since they’ll be leaving when the mountains are gone, they don’t care that the water is polluted or the land isn’t fit for living on.
People who don’t know Meena might assume she is trying to take advantage of this country. She tells River of how hard her family works and how much to they do to help their neighbor Mrs. Lau so they can stay in the rent control apartment she is allowing them to use. Meena’s family can’t afford to live anywhere else so they can’t be found out or they’ll be forced to leave. All of their life has to fit easily into a box so it can disappear if the landlord comes and questions. Meena is always afraid of losing the life she has because there is no other option.
River and Meena are very different, but very much the same. Their voices are caring, brave and strong. Their families are committed to making things better for their children – but they aren’t always able to do that. The twists and turns and connections of these two friends will surprise, concern and delight you. River and Meena develop a strong friendship through their letters. They share so much about themselves and their lives that they will become your friends too. You’ll be cheering and gasping, hoping and sighing right along with them.
I loved this book. I hope it is read all over. It shares lives and places that are not often written about in a way that is real and honest. Being able to share your own true self is a wonderful gift.