Same Sun HereSpring 2012 Fiction
Though Silas House and Neela Vaswani's Same Sun Here is loaded with great messages, it is never preachy. In a nice storytelling device, two gifted authors wrote the book as a series of letters between pen pals. The combination of each author's distinct voice is wonderful.
12-year-olds Meena and River become pen pals through programs at their schools. Meena is an Indian girl living a precarious life in New York's Chinatown. Her immigrant family is living illegally, in a rent-controlled sublet, hoping to establish citizenship before they're found out.
River is a native of a rural Kentucky mining town. His community is suffering from the effects of a powerful coal company's aggressive mountain top removal. Jobs have been lost - River's father is forced to live and work hours away - but worse, the streams are polluted, mountains are razed recklessly and little care is paid to human life.
Because this book is essentially one long conversation, protected by the anonymity and distance of letter-writing, a different kind of intimacy is possible. Meena and River can share anything. They have frank (and humorous) discussions about race, about boys and girls and about their own youthful insights on politics and the larger world.
Everyone in the book - parents and grandmothers, Kiku, Meena's brother - is confronted with unwanted change and everyone grows. Through Meena readers get a close-up look at life as an immigrant in modern-day New York - the secrets and fear, the camaraderie with other immigrants, and also the thrills of a new world. Through River, readers see how fear can divide people, and the dark side of money and power. But they also see that individuals have power, too, a voice. In the end, the threats of the world still loom large, but the story is uplifting.