I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or girl so I will write to you like you are a human being.
The above comes from a book I’ve been reading for middle grade children, called Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.
My wife, a middle school teacher, brought the book home several weeks ago for me to read. She said, “It’s really good and you’ll like it.”
Well, I got hooked. It’s too good to put down. Teeming with prose often approaching poetry and vivid scenarios that can move hearts, it resonates those values that define the better portions of ourselves. I venture it’s one of those books you start missing no sooner you’re done.
Briefly, it’s told through a series of letters exchanged between two 12 year olds: Meena, formerly from India, now living in NYC, and River, who lives in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
[Mamaw] says that the everyone used to write letters all the time and it’s a lost art form.
Turns out, these two have a lot in common, despite their differences in background and locale:
Both are close to their grandmothers.
Have fathers with out-of-town jobs.
Share an affection for dogs.
Are fond of mountains. (Mountains were part of Meena’s Indian childhood. River lives in the mountains.)
In New York, the buildings are in someways like mountains, but they are only alive because of the people living in them.
Are sensitive to the beauty and wonder of nature.
I usually walk through the woods instead of taking the driveway because it’s a different world there.
Are outliers. (People make fun of their strong accents and origin.)
Like to read.
I like that library books have secret lives. All those hands that have held them. All those eyes that have read them.
The Same Sun Here is primarily about the faulty way we perceive others. River had been told that people who looked like Meena were terrorists. Mina, that people in Kentucky were hillbillies.
Mamaw says that people don’t really care about people here because they think we’re a bunch of stupid hillbillies who are looking for handouts.
Hey, if this old guy likes the book, typically self-conscious young adults will like it even more
Having said this, I think some readers won’t like the book for its seeming political preachments. It’s big on environment (mountain top removal) and waxes enthusiastic over Obama’s election victory. (The story is set in 2008.). A book of several strands, it features the powerless and, thus, exploited and how they may still find a voice.
Climate change challenges us as well, menacing not only our quality of life, but our survival. I cringe with every forest leveled, diminishing resources, declining species, sulfur fumes, unrestrained growth, etc.
I like people who lay their cards face up on the table.
I like a book that advocates awareness of a wider humanity and the folly of stereotyping that walls out our fellows.
Too often, bound by cultural mores, we’ve only a corner perspective.
We need a wider view to forestall our prejudices. Achieving empathy, we’ll discover a surprising commonality–that we’re more alike than we thought.
Sometimes you write things in your letters that I thought nobody had ever thought before except me, but then there it is in your letter.
Or as the title nuances, the same sun here.