The blurb says that this epistolary middle grade fiction novel is “narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by a separate gifted author.” I’m assuming that Ms. Vaswani wrote the letters from “Meena”, an Indian immigrant girl who lives in New York City, and Mr. House wrote the letters from “River Justice”, a boy who lives in the mountains of Kentucky. The two children are pen pals who prefer writing and sending letters the old-fashioned way—by snail mail.
The book takes place in 2008, and the election of that year, in which Obama became president, is a central event in the book. Neither Meena nor River knows why anyone wouldn’t be excited about Barack Obama becoming president. They write to each other about issues such as mountain top removal (a destructive way of coal-mining), prejudice, rent control in NYC, pollution, immigration policy, and about how all of these political issues affect them in their daily lives. They also write about family and school and difficult times and the ups and downs of becoming a teenager.
Even though the politics in the books didn’t match mine, and I could have wished that the two children would have explored the differences between the political cultures in Kentucky and New York with a little more balance and nuance, I did enjoy the story. Mostly I liked the honesty that Meena and River shared in their letters. They sounded like real children/young adults, and their friendship grew in an organic, believable way that kept me reading in spite of my frustration with the political agenda that peeked out at me in the subtext.
I think the politics will go over the heads of most elementary school aged children, and they’ll just enjoy the story.