I'm beginning to think that I don't just occasionally enjoy middle grade books, but I might legitimately love it as a genre. I keep reading middle grade books or younger YA books that I think are the exception to the rule. But not everything can be the exception.
Same Sun Here is a delightful story, innocent and youthful. Its the tale of two pen pals. Meena was born in India but currently living in New York City. River is from rural Eastern Kentucky. (Though the county is supposedly fictionalized, it's pretty much London KY. The Dairy Dart reference gives it away).
Letters can be lovely or tedious. Same Sun Now is maybe the best pen pal story that I've ever read (at least the best in a long time). The letters feel real, using lots of exclamation points and loooooooooots of silly antics people use when writing letters, while still maintaining readability. Because of the co-authoring of this book both characters have distinct voices.
"It's weird that you are originally from the mountains, because that's where I live now. I looked up where you were born online and it's cool because the mountains there look so much like mine, with pine trees and everything. I always expected India to only have big palm trees for some reason." (River)Meena is adorable, mixing memories of India with tales of New York City. I've never been to the city but she gives it both personality and problems. She'll talk about the subway, buying mangos on a stick from a stand, but also rent controlled apartments and evil landlords. Often I feel like New York is either idealized or criminalized in stories. This was a nice mix.
River is a country boy. His childhood sounds a bit like mine, playing in the creek, roaming the woods and climbing trees. His mamaw is a political activist, something that I think is a rarity in Kentucky. I know Silas House's politics and I feel like he's a little heavy handed with them in this novel. For me that's the biggest flaw in this book. It can't just be a cute story about two kids who find out they have more in common than different. It has to become an issue book about mountaintop removal.
I've been open about how I'm sensitive about the portrayal of Appalachians and the complicated relationship we have with coal. House does a much better job of handling the issue than the The Evening Hour (an adult novel set in WV that I recently reviewed). He at least acknowledges that within Appalachia there are two sides. But after a cursory nod to the other side, he makes his opinion very obvious.
What I like is the two characters with contrasting lives and cultures. For me that's beautiful and works so well. But near the end of the book it comes more about the issue of coal than the characters of Meena and River. Overall I liked this book. But I started out absolutely loving and my love waned. Sometimes that's the worst feeling with a book. Still it's a delightful book about two kindred spirits, finding friendship despite their differences.
On a related note this book gave me an interesting conundrum and I'm curious to see other people's opinions. Near the end there's a scene where River meets the governor of Kentucky. However, rather than using the real governors name they had a fictionalized governor. This gave me pause because the letters are dated (2008 & 2009) and it's a contemporary book set in the real world. Does this bother anyone else? It really bothered me. It felt contrived because it took me out of the story.