Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani Reviewed by Holly Mueller
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, the audio version narrated by the authors, played in my car while I was driving from Cincinnati to my parents’ home in Somerset, Kentucky, over Labor Day weekend. When it ended, I felt deflated. How could I part with 12-year-olds River Dean Justice and Meena Joshi, the authors’ voices ringing in my head – Silas House’s lyrical, lulling southern drawl and Neela Vaswani’s spunky, open-hearted staccato Indian accent? They had both won a place in my heart and will never leave. I can only hope House and Vaswani might show mercy and write a companion novel or sequel.
River and Meena chose each other as pen pals in a class project. Their classmates are surprised when they decide to write letters instead of e-mails, thus this epistolary novel. They have a lot in common: absent fathers who need to look for work away from their families, grandmothers they adore, struggles with friends and school, and causes bigger than themselves. It doesn’t seem possible they could find these commonalities when they live in such vastly different environments – he in the rural Kentucky mountains, and she in Chinatown in New York City – and starkly contrasting backgrounds – River has never left Kentucky and Meena is an immigrant from India – but they realize their hearts and sun are the same.
River and Meena correspond about Obama’s election and inauguration, basketball, death, the sights and sounds of their hometowns, their grandmothers and families, food, poetry, rent control and Mountain Top Removal, ethics, stereotypes, homosexuality, and much to River’s chagrin, making out and shaving. The reader (or in my case, the listener) finds herself laughing out loud and tearing up throughout this endearing story. Mountain Top Removal becomes an integral part of the plot. If you go to Silas House’s website, http://silashouse.weebly.com/, you can find out more about his writings, life, and causes. Neela Vaswani also has a fascinating website, http://neelavaswani.com/home-static.php.
The audience for this book is tricky. I see it won the 2012 Parent’s Choice Fiction Award for ages 10 and up, so that’s a good place to start. I would use it in the classroom for writing launches such as writing letters as a genre, choosing first person point of view, using sensory details in describing setting, and reading lessons for teaching theme and character traits. This novel would also lend itself well to a unit on immigration or a science unit on environmental concerns. The best use of this novel is to enjoy a brilliantly told story about two kids who bridge social, environmental, cultural, and language barriers to connect under the same sun.
Holly Mueller teaches fourth grade gifted reading at Kings Local Schools in Ohio. Her passion is reading, and her quest is to find just the right book for just the right reader. You can read her blog at: http://hollymueller.blogspot.com/. You can also find her on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter at @Mueller Holly.