Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

Excerpt from The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Most Precious Substance on Earth

by Shashi Bhat

The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat X
The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Jun 2022, 272 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Ahima
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Why I Read Beowulf

I started reading Beowulf about a week ago, not because it was on the syllabus, but because I am in love with my English teacher. I would read anything for him. The book's cover is stark and grayscale, a black background with the title in white block letters. Below the title is the outline of a man, but just his top half—like a passport photo, except the outline is filled with silver chainmail. I keep turning back to this picture on the cover and wondering how they made it look three-dimensional, half expecting the pattern of metal to bulge into discernable features, to turn into a man's face.

Once I finish the book, I will drop casual references to it in class or at English Club meetings. "This reminds me of my favorite epic poem," I will say, pretending I don't know that it's also my English teacher's favorite epic poem, and then I will quote from it brilliantly, lingering on the alliteration. Mr. Mackenzie will pause, turning away from the blackboard to face me, still holding a piece of chalk in his hand. Sometimes, in my most reckless moments of imagination, I see him dropping the piece of chalk in amazement.

I am not sure yet exactly which passages I will quote. I'm only on page four, which I reached a few minutes ago, while sitting in the hallway outside the English office with my best friend, Amy. As per our routine, we arrived exactly forty-five minutes before the morning bell, by the side entrance closest to our lockers. We unloaded textbooks and binders and reloaded with different textbooks and binders, then wandered over to the English office, making ourselves comfortable on the ground beside the door while cackling over inside jokes we've shared since Grade 6. Today, as usual, I'm reading and Amy is peeling the varnish off the floor. The varnish lies in a loose coat over the hardwood, and cracks as we step over it. In the short time I've been attending Sir William Alexander High School, I've already seen so much of the building deteriorate; it seems like every day another part of it breaks off. Back in September, I bicycled by and looked at the school—at its heritage red brick and white trim, its tall, narrow windows, its spacious, dandelion-filled lawn—and I thought, with affection, That is my high school, relishing the still-newness of Grade 9. Just at that moment, a piece of one of the window frames freed itself from its hinge and fell to the pavement.

Amy peels the varnish off the floor in patches all over the school. During lunch, she peels the floor of a second-floor alcove, where we eat with our legs crossed in front of us, sandwich bags in our laps, backs against the concrete walls. During fourth-period Phys Ed, she peels the floor in the gymnasium while we stretch, and then leaves the waxy scraps in small piles here and there. Later, when we're made to do push-ups, people's hands and shoes sometimes land on these piles and their limbs go sliding sideways. Eventually, the whole floor will be stripped bare.

Today, she's taking breaks from peeling the floor to peel her breakfast orange, trying to unravel the skin in one long, unbroken strip.

"You're getting floor germs on your orange," I tell her.

"Um, excuse me, it's a tangerine," she says. "And I'm strengthening my immune system." She wipes her hands on the pockets of her cargo pants. "I had a bowl of dirt instead of cereal this morning. Gravel instead of marshmallows."

To the tune of the Cheerios jingle, I sing, "The one and only Gravel-O-oh-oh-oh-oh ..."

"What was that?" She looks at me askance.

I cringe. Lately, she's been resisting my banter. My word-play and cereal commercial parodies go unappreciated. These days, Amy seems to disagree just to disagree. Already this morning we had a difference of opinion on whether to eat at Tim Hortons or Pizza Corner after school.

Amy: "Sugar beats cheese."

This is the full text of the first chapter of The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat. Copyright © 2022 by Shashi Bhat. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Books About Female Friendship

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, a new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.


Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
Who Said...

From the moment I picked your book up...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.