A Review of “Same Sun Here” by Melissa Miller
Meena and River have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. But Meena is an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City s Chinatown, while River is a Kentucky coal miner s son. The unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing thoughts on their lives and, as their friendship deepens, on larger issues such as activism, immigration, racism, and prejudice. Meena s family studies for citizenship exams, faces harassment by a landlord, and experiences the death of Meena s grandmother in India, while River s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, propelling him into a protest march and confrontation with the governor. This glimpse into the lives of two very different youths who find common ground in their everyday lives makes bold statements about cultural misconceptions, the power and powerlessness of the individual and community, and the great value of being and having a friend.
Authors Silas House and Neela Vaswani have collaborated to write this short novel for middle-school-aged children. The book includes several themes that are beautifully interlaced; themes of environmentalism, family, understanding, equality, culture, freedom and growing up. A beautiful book that is full of wisdom, “Same Sun Here” can easily be read and understood by children ages 11 through 14, and is perfect for classroom use.The book is a collection of pen pal letters written by River, a young boy living in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and Meena, a young girl who just emigrated from India to live with her family in New York City’s Chinatown. What is expected to only be a trivial class project quickly turns into lifelong friendship.
River opens up to Meena about how his hometown is being destroyed by mountaintop removal (MTR), a method of mining that blows up mountains to get to coal, and how his father had to go all the way to Mississippi to find work after being laid off from his coal mining job. He speaks of his deep connection with his mamaw (whom he lives with), and how sad his mom is about his dad living so far away. River loves to play basketball and has never been to a big city like New York, so he asks Meena a lot of questions about people who “aren’t like him.”
Meena opens up to River about how she lived in India with her grandmother until her mother and father could save up enough money to bring her to the United States. Feeling uprooted and scared, Meena tells River about how her family is living in their rent-controlled apartment illegally (only the previous tenant’s immediate family is allowed to live there), and how her father must live in New Jersey during the week to work as a server at a hotel. Meena’s parents are studying for the citizenship test, though, and Meena helps them memorize the answers to the test every evening after school.
Although the two children live so many miles away, they are allowed to get to know one another on a very deep level through their letters; writing many things they would never have the guts to say in person.
Throughout the second half of the book, several events unfold in each child’s life, which lead to a very bittersweet yet exciting ending. It will leave you questioning our purpose in this world and if there really is a place we can call home. Or are the people we choose to befriend and help our “home”? Is culture important for highlighting the uniqueness of people, or does it hinder us from seeing just how similar we are…or is it a bridge for discovery?
You will grow a profound connection to River and Meena when you read this book, and learn more than you could ever imagine learning from two twelve-year-olds. The language and voice of each character is very true to age, and there are some moments that remind you of the natural awkwardness of the child-to-teen transition. These things come together to create a book that is very real and will hit close to home for many.
And, although the book was written for young readers, it is equally interesting for adults (hence, why I read it)! You can find this book at several storefront and online bookstores, including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Melissa Miller is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to give education advice. Her articles often aim to help you on your way to landing associate degree jobs. If you have any suggestions or comments, shoot them to firstname.lastname@example.org.