One of the most commonly quoted portions of the Gettysburg Address describes our government as one “of the people, by the people, for the people” and we have had many reminders of what it looks like to stand up to and for this system of government over the past few years. In 2017, Time Magazine’s people of the year were the silence breakers of the Me Too Movement. This year, journalists were honored as guardians of truth. Other individuals on the short list this year were March for Our Lives activists who, even though many are not out of their teens, made sure that their voices were heard.
In Same Sun Here, an epistolary novel written as letters between River Justice in Kentucky and Meena Joshi in New York, two voices speak out against what they believe is unjust. Silas House writes the letters from River’s perspective and Neela Vaswani writes Meena’s letters. The back and forth between these two characters is at times amusing, as when Meena shares the experience of shaving her legs for the first time and River’s response is that she should never write about hair, anywhere, ever again. At other times, it is poignant, such as River’s description of a protest that he attends against mountaintop removal or Meena’s loss of her grandmother in India.
This book is not just a wonderful introduction to young activist voices, it is also an example of how important it is to get to know people whose experiences differ from our own. Meena and River connect over a love of words, family, and community, but their individual experiences of these similar ideas differ tremendously. Through learning about each other, they learn a lot about themselves.
Students in late elementary school or middle school will be clamoring to participate in a pen pal program after reading this book. They will probably also be more aware of issues affecting their own communities after getting to know Meena and River. Silas House ends his acknowledgements section by saying, “To everyone who has read this book, thank you for spending time with us. Now, go do good.” That is exactly what this book inspires us to do.
Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.
Diversity 9: I feel connected to other people and know how to talk, work and play with others even when we are different or when we disagree.
Action 16: I pay attention to how people (including myself) are treated, and I try to treat others how I like to be treated.
Action 19: I will speak up or do something when I see unfairness, and I will not let others convince me to go along with injustice.
RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
RL.5- Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.