“I just might have a problem that you’ll understand We all need somebody to lean on.” -- Bill Withers (who grew up in an Appalachian coal-mining town)
River: “I have never met anybody from New York City before. I’ve always heard that people from up there are real rude and will not hold the door for you, and you’ll get mugged if you walk down the street. Is that true? My mamaw says it is probably a stereotype, which I looked up in the dictionary and it means ‘an oversimplified opinion.’ She also said to remember the Golden Rule, which she says a lot. She is real big on the Golden Rule, which is from the Bible, I guess. I don’t have time to look it up right now. Do you believe in the Bible? Since you are an Indian, I don’t really know.”
Meena: “Thank you for saying you might have thought me and Kiku were terrorists, too. That sounds funny but what I mean is that I am glad we tell each other the real whole truth, and I am glad we can change each other’s mind. I feel like I am learning a lot from you about Americans and what they’re really like. I would have been afraid to go to Kentucky before I met you. Kiku says that everyone in the South wants to hang us by our necks from trees. But since meeting you, I have told him he’s wrong. He doesn’t believe me, of course, because he thinks he’s never wrong.”
What an incredibly fun read SAME SUN HERE is! A tale in two voices, it is written by a best-selling guy author of adult fiction from eastern Kentucky and an award-winning gal author from NYC. Their collaboration consists of letters back and forth between two twelve year-old pen pals. I believe that it is the best children’s book of its kind that I have ever read.
River Dean Justice, living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, is the basketball-loving son of a Kentucky coal miner. His father is living away from home, having been forced to travel to Biloxi Mississippi to find work. Meanwhile, River’s idyllic surroundings are currently being obliterated by the destructive coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. His primary caregiver, his memaw (grandmother) is an outspoken activist who shares some great lessons with him.
Meena Joshi, now living in New York City’s Chinatown, has spent most of her life in her native India, living amongst the foothills of the Himalayas with her activist dadi (grandmother), until her parents and her older brother -- who had all emigrated to New York when Meena was a very young child -- were able to finally send the money required to fly her to America. She is a pretty nifty young artist. Like River, Meena’s father is away from home working most of the time. “We do not have the Piggly Wiggly in New York City. I was taking the subway with Kiku when I read your letter for the first time. Piggly Wiggly is such a funny name. I laughed out loud and couldn’t stop. A few people on the subway looked at me and either smiled or frowned, depending on their mood. Mostly, though, everyone just kept doing their own thing. You could stand on your head in the middle of a New York subway and no one would ask what you were doing. Piggly Wiggly. Piggly Wiggly. It is fun to say.”
Both of these young characters have some pretty cool influences in their respective lives, but in this eventful year for each of them, both will have emotional needs that will be fulfilled by the other, thanks to the deep friendship and mutual trust that develops between them letter by letter. I learned a great deal from these letters, little things like the fact that bindis are typically made of felt and work like stickers, and big things like the jaw-dropping processes involved in mountain top removal and the deleterious effects of those processes upon the environment. I also learned a lot about rent-controlled apartments in New York City. For having such different backgrounds, and for living in such different parts of the U.S., it is amazing to think about the wealth of similarities between the lives of River and Meena. And it is sobering to consider the extent to which corporate profits impact all of the book’s characters and their surroundings, whether it be in northern India, lower Manhattan, or the Appalachians in Kentucky. But this is all secondary to what is foremost a truly fun and notable read about two captivating young characters who are so fully brought to life by their respective creators.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California USA Richie’s Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (http://richiespicks.com/)
Do a 12 year old boy in the mountains and coal country of Kentucky and a 12 year old Indian girl from Chinatown in New York City have anything in common? Could they possibly create a relationship built of truth, honesty and letters only?
River Dean Justice and Meena Joshi are about to find out. They agree it will be letters only and that means no email, only letters and only the truth.
As the letters fly back and forth, River shares his fears about his mother and her headaches and about his Maman who is fighting the power of the coal company. She sees they are taking more than they give to the town where the mine is located. One person can make a difference.
Meena tells River about her fear of being evicted from their rent-controlled apartment and her pride in the work she does for the upcoming school musical.
Both young people are figuring out themselves and their families and the larger world around them. Told in two voices through their letters, this is a story about differences, about courage, about the power of one. It's a steady journey with a dramatic dip or two toward the end of the book but for the most part it's a story that feels its way just as the characters are exploring. I think you come to care for both kids but the best part is stepping back to look at yourself to see what your letter would say. Ages 9 -13 (Barb)