Same sun here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Candlewick, 2012. ISBN 9780763656843.
Meena, an Indian girl who recently migrated to New York and River, a boy who lives in the mountains of Kentucky become pen friends whose exchanges provide the substance to this epistolary novel.
Organised by their schools, the pair select one another from an exchange programme on the basis that they were the only available participants who nominated traditional or snail mail. This is important because Meena does not have ready access to a computer as she lives in impoverished circumstances and River chooses to be different from the usual teenager, being significantly influenced by his grandmother who promotes traditional values and customs. The communication delay caused by the mail system also provides a sense of anticipation and longing for replies to letters between the correspondents and anxiety prompted by fears of misunderstanding and worry that the other has stopped writing. This element, and the lengthy detail of the letters would not have been realistically possible if the medium had been email.
The pair's communications give each other and the reader an insight to their lives, which on the face of it, are very different. It is soon realised however that whilst their environmental and social conditions vary, they share equally significant fears about their families and future circumstances. Both children experience the absence of their fathers who must take work which precludes them living at home and older women play important roles as friends, mentors and confidantes for each teenager.
Meena writes in a style which is not self-conscious and her revelation of personal details sometimes causes embarrassment to River. This is plausible given that a recent migrant may be naïve to certain customs and that the pace and style of New York life contrasts with the traditional and formal nature of life in a secluded Kentucky mining town.
Meena and River are likeable characters and their exchanges are curiously innocent yet simultaneously wise. The migrant family has a great deal of respect for America and they show gratitude for the chance to live there and undertake the demanding test for citizenship. This is remarkable given that they live in atrocious circumstances in a condemned apartment and struggle to survive financially. Their respect for citizenship and knowledge of history and civics necessary for the test is also notable when compared with the attitudes of established Americans who take it for granted or who are ignorant.
When a calamitous event takes place in River's town, the inhabitants gain nationwide attention and the two letter writers develop intimacy and familiarity which provide mutual support.
This is a wholesome book which is pitched at young teens and might be criticised for being a little twee and the depiction of the adolescents' values contrived. It does have many levels for analysis however and is a worthwhile read.