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Reviews of The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat

The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat

The Most Precious Substance on Earth

by Shashi Bhat
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  • First Published:
  • Jun 28, 2022
  • Paperback:
  • Jun 2023
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About This Book

Book Summary

Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat's sharp, darkly comic, and poignant story about a high school student's traumatic experience and how it irrevocably alters her life, for fans of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Girlhood, and Pen15.

Bright, hilarious, and sensitive fourteen-year-old Nina spends her spare time reading Beowulf and flirting with an internet predator. She has a vicious crush on her English teacher, and her best friend Amy is slowly drifting away. Meanwhile, Nina's mother tries to match her up with local Indian boys unfamiliar with her Saved by the Bell references, and Nina's worried father has started reciting Hindu prayers outside her bedroom door. Beginning with a disturbing incident at her high school, The Most Precious Substance on Earth tells stories of Nina's life from the '90s to present day, when she returns to the classroom as a high school teacher with a haunting secret and discovers that the past is never far behind her.

Darkly funny, deeply affecting, unsettling, and at times even shocking, Shashi Bhat's irresistible novel-in-stories examines the relationships between those who take and those who have something taken. The Most Precious Substance on Earth is a sharp-edged and devastating look at how women are conditioned to hide their trauma and suppress their fear, loneliness, and anger, and an unforgettable portrait of how silence can shape a life.

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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The structure of The Most Precious Substance on Earth was something I both enjoyed and struggled with throughout my reading experience. Bhat's book feels more like a short story collection than a novel, and this is a major factor to take into account when considering whether it would appeal to you. What I loved about the book regarding its short story presentation is Bhat's economical use of language. Readers quickly get a sense of Nina's personality, what she thinks about and the central conflicts she's experiencing throughout pivotal moments. Bhat encapsulates one monumental moment per chapter. Each feels like a standalone piece of Nina's life, its own story within her universe, linked to others thematically but not necessarily by plot progression...continued

Full Review (832 words)

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(Reviewed by Lisa Ahima).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An empowering and liberatory coming-of-age novel for 'the girls who stay quiet.'

Publishers Weekly
[Bhat] balances humor and pathos in this savvy coming-of-age story set in Halifax, Nova Scotia... It adds up to a bold statement about the impact of a young woman's trauma.

Author Blurb Amy Jones, author of Every Little Piece of Me
Honest, hilarious, and profoundly affecting, The Most Precious Substance on Earth is rife with moments of such emotional clarity they made me gasp, and are still ringing in my mind days later. Bhat writes with such a deep understanding of the world that by the end of the book, I felt I understood it a little better, too.

Author Blurb Robin Wasserman, author of Mother Daughter Widow Wife
With language as lovely as it is razor sharp, Shashi Bhat paints an indelible portrait of the pleasure and pain of adolescence—and the scars it leaves behind. Like the young woman at its center, this novel-in-stories has a fierce voice, a soft beauty, and a huge heart.

Reader Reviews

Madhuri

The structure of the most precious substance in earth
The structure of The Most Precious Substance on Earth was something I both enjoyed and struggled with throughout my reading experience. Bhat's book feels more like a short story collection than a novel, and this is a major factor to take into account...   Read More

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Beyond the Book



Books About Female Friendship

Sex and the City, Girls Trip, Booksmart. Films that center female friendships feel good to watch. There is no real question as to why; these films weed out most of the realities of friendships we may not like, merge all the qualities of them we want to preserve, and play it all out in front of us, looping in a lighthearted plot to keep us engaged, so we can feel as if we, too, are a part of these fictional cliques. But where can we turn when we want to see a more nuanced take on friendship between women and girls? My answer is modern literature.

Covers of books about female friendship

Shashi Bhat's The Most Precious Substance on Earth takes readers into a childhood friendship between characters Nina and Amy that breaks our hearts, because it reminds us of people we'...

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