Monday, February 16, 2015

Literary ruralism (Part X): Same Sun Here

I recently read Silas House and Neela Vaswani's Same Sun Here, a young adult novel consisting of letters between a boy in small-town Appalachian Kentucky and an Indian immigrant girl living in Manhattan's Chinatown.  I loved the book and thought it did a fine job of presenting some fairly mature themes to young adults.  (Actually, the book is recommended for those 9 years and up).  These themes included civil disobedience, absent parents, death of a grandparent, socio-economic disadvantage, and environmental degradation, among others.

Having grown up working class in the Ozark Highlands, I found that the letters by the Appalachian boy, River Dean Justice, resonated powerfully with me.  His description of his world seemed highly  authentic, and the turn of phrase, too, was uncanny.  Here's just one of the passages that struck a chord with me, where River is describing a trip he, his grandmother, and other activists took from their fictional home town, Black Banks, to the state capital, Frankfort, to join a protest against mountain top removal.
Everybody we knew all piled in together on a bus we had rented from a church.  It was an old school bus that had been painted white, and instead of saying CROW COUNTY SCHOOLS down the side like a normal bus, it said John 3:16 on one side and HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS on the other side.  
* * * 
On the way up, one of the community organizers (that's what Mamaw is, too, a community organizer) led everybody in songs.  We sang all the way to Frankfort, which is a two-hour drive from Black Banks.  We sang "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and "Which Side are You On?" and "Hard Times."  Those are real old songs that people in the mountains sing all the time, so I'm not sure if you've heard them or not, but I've been hearing them all my life.  It's like if you're from here, you're sort of born knowing those words, like they're part of your body or something.  
Another favorite passages was when River described a supper of "salmon patties and soup beans, which I love," made by his grandmother (Mamaw).  That's a meal from my own childhood, too--and a special treat it was (even though I now know how gauche that is, not least because the salmon came from a can).

In short, this little book was full of images and phrases I have not heard or thought of in years, not since my entire world was Newton County, Arkansas.  Notations made by a prior reader in the library copy I read was a reminder of that some of the phrases and word choices were unusual.  The other reader's notations commented on words like "fret," which I don't see as especially noteworthy, though they do  perhaps reflect a regional parlance.

1 comment:

Katie Young said...

Makes me want to read this. For those of us from rural areas, it can be hard to find fiction that rings true. I have the same problem, being from the San Joaquin Valley!