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Even better than reading a refreshingly honest story by one talented writer is reading one by two such writers. House (Eli the Good) and adult author Vaswani (Where the Long Grass Bends) alternate between the voices of Meena-a 12-year-old girl who lives with her recently immigrated Indian family in New York City-and River, who lives with his environmental activist grandmother in rural Kentucky. The two connect as pen pals, and their letters reveal the unusual intersections (like okra) and the stark contrasts in their lives. The preteens reflect on everything from prejudice and religion to politics and music, but their voices are so open, true, and even humorous that the story never feels heavy or preachy ("You are the best person I know," River writes. "But I'm sorry, I still don't like to talk about shaving your legs and all that. That is something we will have to agree to disagree on"). Meena and River don't have all their troubles worked out by book's end, but readers will feel confident that their friendship will get them through whatever lies ahead. Ages 9-up. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Written by two authors, this epistolary novel about two pen pals combines two richly detailed, separate stories while showing the essential connections shared between the young people. Born in India, Meena, 12, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, New York. While preparing for the citizenship exam, her mother works as a nanny, and her father searches for work elsewhere, only returning home one weekend a month. In rural Kentucky, River, 12, faces hardship when his coal-miner father loses his job and has to move far away, and his depressed mother barely gets out of bed. His support is Mamaw, his half-Cherokee grandmother, who is a passionate local environmental activist. Through e-mails, and occasional snail mails, both kids help each other through painful family tensions and struggles, and both suffer community prejudice as hillbillies and immigrants looking for a handout. Readers will be held by the kids' challenges, along with the warm bond they share.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist
School Library Journal
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Gr 4-7-This tender and breathtakingly honest story about unlikely friendships and finding common ground will captivate readers. Writing beautifully in alternating voices, the authors introduce readers to Meena, a 12-year-old girl who recently immigrated with her family from Mussoorie, India, to New York City; and River, who lives with his mother and environmentalist grandmother in rural Kentucky. The 2008 U.S. presidential election serves as a momentous historical backdrop as the two youngsters become pen pals, bonding over shared experiences (deep relationships with their grandmothers, fathers who work away from home, and an abiding love of dogs), and opening each other's eyes to the vast cultural and social differences between them. As they navigate tragedy and confusion in their lives-Meena grieves over her grandmother's death and an environmental disaster wreaks havoc on River's community-the preteens find solace in one another. At one point they wonderingly speculate about a possible telepathic connection ("I believe I heard you say, `River Dean Justice! It's me, Meena..' So I think we do have telepathy."). In an era when social media permeates every area of our lives, Meena and River's old-fashioned camaraderie through letters feels refreshing and true. While the conclusion seems slightly unfinished, audiences will revel in this lovely story about a boy and girl who are not so different from one another after all.-Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.