House, Silas and Neela Vaswani. Same Sun Here. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2012. Print.
Meena and River are penpals from seemingly very different backgrounds. Meena is an immigrant girl from India living in New York City and River is a boy from Kentucky who loves basketball. As they exchange snail-mail, they discover that they are kindred spirits who both have a strong attachment to their respective grandmothers and families whose father has to live separately from them in order to work. Like most good friendships, they are able to resolve a conflict respectfully, even though it is through letters. They rejoice in each other’s triumphs, teach each other about their different cultures and lifestyles, and encourage each other through some hard times, including a death and local tragedy, without ever having met.
New York City and Eastern Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009.
Point of View:
1st person epistolary (Meena and River)
Family, friendships, confidants, cultural acceptance, cultural encounters, grief and worry, activism, respect.
The book was written as series of letters between two middle schoolers, including drawings, poems, plays that they wanted to share with each other as friends. These additional elements add an authentic feel of the experimentation new friends do to share and get to know each other. The inclusion of family members’ influence on their lives provides depth to their feelings. The book received positive attention for its audiobook performance by the authors, as well as honors from the South Asia Book Award Committee and Bank Street College of Education.
This book was co-authored by two talented writers, each a member of the cultural experience that their characters represented. The characters teach each other—and the reader—about their culture and community through questions and answers they exchange in the letters. For example, Meena includes Hindi words and translations and talks about New York rent control and bindis, while River explains what Little Debbie cakes are and describes the controversial issue of mountaintop removal in the Appalachians.
This book is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. It will appeal equally to boys and girls as both have an equal voice. Since it also represents several distinct cultures (American, Indian, immigrant, urban, rural), it may appeal to a wider readership than those interested in a single parallel culture.
As I read this book, I was reminded of my own experience with penpal-writing and the longing I had to connect with a best friend. For several years, I wrote letters to new friends in Nebraska and England, sharing photographs and homemade beads, worries, family issues, dreams and advice. I definitely would have identified with this book back then and it probably would have encouraged me to write even more letters! I enjoyed the influence that each child had on the other and how they were open to learning from each other. There were moments that I was a little surprised that River as a tween boy would play along with a girl suggesting that he pour out his heart so easily. However, it did lend to a convincing friendship anyway, even if I think that such tween boys are pretty rare.